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Jeff Healey and the Jazz Wizards: It’s Tight Like That

Evolving from R&B to trad jazz is rare. But to pull it off successfully makes blind guitarist-trumpeter-singer Jeff Healey a true wizard. The toast of Canada as a rocker, Healey has morphed his seven-piece band into a convincing Dixieland combo. Only one track (culled from 11 recorded at Toronto clubs and the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival), “Goin’ Up the River,” betrays Healey’s roots with its triplets-laced piano comping. The rest is pure Dixieland.

The best is “Little Girl,” with the intensity and momentum that make traditional jazz so infectious. What’s lacking in expertise is redeemed by showmanship and musical humor: Drummer Gary Scriven contributes a washboard chorus on “Sheik of Araby” that could pass for a tap-dance solo; hard-swinging guest trombonist Chris Barber interpolates “Moonlight Serenade” into “Basin Street Blues”; fine reed player Cristopher Plock adds a lively plungerlike vocal to “Darktown Strutter’s Ball”; and not to be overlooked are the humorous asides of Healey as a singer and trumpeter, often conjuring up his mentor, Satchmo. “Confessin'” is his best example. Also impressive: the consistent, Venutilike playing by violinist Drew Jurecka; the comping of guitarist Jesse Barksdale (so sensitive on the intro to “Someday Sweetheart”) and the come-hither voice of Tarra Hazleton, with an Eartha Kitt vibrato.

Originally Published