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Uptown-- David Basse

Basse has been a prominent vocalist and jazz advocate in Kansas City for three decades. He co-founded the City Light Orchestra in 1982, has been a producer and host on local jazz radio, and is a member of the Kansas Arts Commission. Yet the first three tracks of his new CD, Uptown, all written by Mike Melvoin and Richard Hurwitz, focus on either New York or New Orleans. On the title track, Basse sings of the Uptown Manhattan jazz scene--"a little bit of heaven on 147th"--with relaxed swinging verve, sounding something like the hip Giacomo Gates with a dash of Nat Cole. Phil Woods' pithy clarinet elevates the piece with his intro and solo, and Melvoin's piano glides through a solo remindful of Red Garland. Melvoin passed away in February of this year, after a long career during which he performed with numerous singers, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, and Bill Henderson. "Something Fried" salutes a restaurant serving good down home food and stomping live music. Melvoin's riffing piano is straight out of New Orleans, and Basse's vocalizing captures some of Dr. John's spirit. Bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin (Woods' regular band mates) generate the appropriate foundation. "52nd and Broadway" alludes to the jazz club strip of 52nd Street back in the day. Melvoin and Woods' alto offer up bop-drenched solos prior to Basse's passionate scatting exchanges with Goodwin. Shades of Eddie Jefferson all the way.

A "Killer Joe" rhythm hooks the listener immediately to the tune "Like Jazz," as Basse sings of a woman who reminds him of the essence of jazz. His spirited expression here recalls Joe Lee Wilson and Oscar Brown, Jr. Melvoin and Woods improvise engagingly and trade heatedly with Goodwin. Gilmore's arco bass and Melvoin's tender piano frame Basse's regretful, plaintive singing of the moving ballad "You Won't Hear Me Say Goodbye." Woods' concise alto solo and his ongoing obligattos enhance the prevailing mood for this top-notch creation composed by Melvoin and Milo Adamo. "Living Without You," a Johnny Mandel/Randy Goodrum tune, tries to look at the brighter side of a separation. At least Basse tries to make the case before admitting he's "kinda blue without you." His no-frills vocal fully and authentically (from experience?) conveys the situation in a confessional way that anyone can relate to.

Melvoin's boppish piano introduces Basse's straight-ahead, mellifluous singing of "Slow Boat to China." Woods' alto solo bounces and sways vigorously, while Melvoin's flows assuredly. Basse's reprise is reminiscent of Louis Armstrong in its playful phrasing and inflections. A sublime Woods brings Bird's classic alto solo on "Parker's Mood" to life in his very own way, before Basse finally, on track eight of this CD, sings about "going to Kansas City." Here Basse evokes King Pleasure in all his glory, while contributing, like Woods, his own original variations. The verse of the Gershwin's "Bidin' My Time" is delineated by Woods' warmly mellow clarinet before Basse roars in appealingly with his natural, unaffected, happy-go-lucky vocalizing. Melvoin, Woods, and Gilmore share the solo space and reinforce the carefree atmosphere.

"Traffic Jam," the fourth Melvoin/Hurwitz opus, talks of cooling it with music you "only listen to" to escape the hectic world. Woods' edgy, driving solo, however, is certainly not laid back or calm, nor is Melvoin's extroverted statement. "But Anyhow / The Blues Don't Care" is a medley of Dan Jaffe/Frank Smith compositions, the first a spoken tale of an artist named "Frank" going through the creative process. "The Blues" finds Basse singing of how the blues "tend to mock you no matter what escape you try." His heartfelt vocal is sensitively supported by Melvoin, and the pianist's improvisation is abundantly lyrical. This duet selection is one of the recording's highlights. An interpretation of "I've Got the World on a String" emphasizes Basse's individuality despite influences that may lurk beneath the surface. Melvoin, Gilmore, and Goodwin are in sync with him all the way. The rich substance, clear intonation, and sincerity of delivery that are all qualities of Basse's style are supremely evident on this admirable closing number.

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Scott Albin