Voice Like a Horn-- Pete McGuinness

The accomplished trombonist and arranger Pete McGuinness only took up singing in earnest in his late 20's, but has since become equally proficient as an instrumentalist and vocalist. McGuinness was a semi-finalist in the 1994 Thelonious Monk Vocalist Competition, and won the 2010 Jazzmobile Vocal Competition. He also earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for his arrangement with vocal of "Smile" from the Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra's First Flight CD. Abby Lincoln, one of the Thelonious Monk Competition judges, called McGuinness "the best scat singer competing that year, but that I had to distance myself from Chet Baker, my hero at the time, and find my own voice." While the natural essence of his voice will always draw comparisons to Baker, and perhaps Sachal Vasandani as well, McGuinness' deft interpretation of lyrics and extraordinary scatting ability set him apart from many other jazz singers. Voice Like a Horn is the first CD to focus on his vocals, although his talent as a trombonist is also made evident. He is at ease and appealing on both ballads and up-tempo burners, and is ably supported by his regular quartet mates Ted Kooshian on piano, Andy Eulau on bass, and Scott Neumann on drums, who are fortified by saxophonist Jon Gordon and trumpeter Bill Mobley on two tracks.

McGuinness is off and scatting from the vigorous start of "Yesterdays," and then sings the lyrics with a gliding assurance. His wordless solo is both jubilant and polished, and Kooshian, Eulau, and Neumann follow with committed, driving statements of their own. McGuinness' out chorus after his reprise shows just how harmonically sophisticated his vocalizations can become, and his modal-style arrangement is a refreshing plus. On the lesser-known Van Heusen/Burke tune "Oh, You Crazy Moon," Gordon and Mobley join the leader's trombone in a perky, stylish reading of the melody, which McGuinness next sings engagingly with the lyrics. Gordon's tart tone and boppish undulations are a potent combination in his alto solo, while Kooshian's light touch and soulful expressiveness are highlights of his improv. Gordon's bop sensibility seems to inspire McGuinness' intricate scatting prior to his return to the lyrics, which recalls to some extent the interpretive flexibility of Bob Dorough.

Kooshian's stirring intro and McGuinness' trombone obbligato set up the latter's heartfelt, yearning vocal treatment of "Never Let Me Go," with the pianist in rapt accord. McGuinness' trombone solo displays his ample chops and a full-bodied sound, and Kooshian and Eulau offer up their own lyrical observations. McGuinness' reprise emphasizes his graceful vocal control, in particular his subtle sliding tones. Mobley's taut, whirlwind bop theme, "49th Street," is handled in thrilling unison by a scatting McGuinness and the composer's trumpet. Mobley and Gordon prance nimbly over the changes with skilled flair in their respective solos, and McGuinness matches them with his enthralling vocal acrobatics. Neumann's workout with brushes, which he uses exclusively and with impeccable facility throughout the track, is an added bonus.

Dizzy Gillespie's "Birks' Works" theme is scatted by McGuinness with rhythmic acuity before he launches into a lucidly constructed solo with labyrinthine extended passages. Kooshian and Eulau each react in a similar vein, expanding on the head in absorbing fashion. McGuinness sings the verse of "Tea for Two" winningly, unaccompanied, before the other quartet members join him for the main melody. His scatted improvisation builds relentlessly, thematically and rhythmically creative all the way. He returns for brisk exchanges with Neumann after Kooshian's stimulating venture. This version of the often sung standard can be placed next to Anita O'Day's classic one from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival as two examples of true jazz singing at it most inventive.

A light Latin rhythm, with Neumann's resonant mallets, underpins McGuinness' dreamy, romantic delivery of the lyrics to "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." The pianist and bassist are again engrossing in their lyrical, well-conceived solos, and McGuinness can't resist a bit of agile scatting as this track begins to fade out. A somewhat obscure Gershwin tune, "Who Cares?," closes out the CD. The verse is a delightful concoction, even more than the chorus itself, both of which McGuinness addresses with verve and a genuine spirit. His subsequent up-tempo trombone solo is a venturesome, flowing rush, and Kooshian shares his enthusiasm preceding an exciting scatted vocal/drums give-and-take and McGuinness' fleet recap.

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Scott Albin