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July/August 2007

Various Artists
Sunnyside Twenty-Fifth Anniversary: Volume 1
Sunnyside

It would be difficult, from the evidence provided by the first volume of Sunnyside Records’ quarter-century anniversary collection, to determine if this intrepid indie possesses a label “sound” akin to that of, say, peak-era Blue Note or Impulse!  Sunnyside’s identity may best reveal itself in the consistent smarts that define its artist roster.

With disparate personalities rubbing agreeably against one another, this well-chosen double-disc set presents a portrait of a modestly daring label that has counted the likes of such distinctive figures as Fred Hersch, Guillermo Klein, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Lucian Souza, Jerry Gonzalez and Jay Clayton among its ranks at one time or another. Reliable mainstreamers mix with edgier players and idiosyncratic individualists who fall between the cracks.

Given a single track, nearly everyone represented acquits him or herself with distinction and, in the best cases, their ardor leads you back to the original album from which the performance was culled. (Carolyn Leonhart, for example, turns in an imaginative reworking of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” that could pique the interest of even the most hardened jazz vocal skeptic.)

While cherry-picked with care, the collection’s paucity of liner notes and track information—who, for instance, is the featured trumpet soloist on Bob Belden’s affecting arrangement of “Face on the Bathroom Floor”?; who wrote the memorable “Listen Little Girl,” exceptionally sung by Meredith D’Ambrosio?; who exactly are Glenn Wilson and Rory Stuart, the baritone saxophonist and guitarist behind the arresting “Armageddon”?—is shoddy at best. Having made it this far through the ever-perilous jazz straits, Sunnyside deserves to celebrate itself with a bit more care.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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