John Bunch Trio: Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (Except One)

This album sounds utterly effortless-like these guys went into the studio and hit the switch and just let it flow. They are pianist John Bunch (swinging his ass off at 86), guitarist Frank Vignola, bassist John Webber, and, on six tunes, flautist Frank Wess. The program is Irving Berlin songs, very familiar (“How Deep Is the Ocean,” “What’ll I Do”) and less so (“Better Luck Next Time”).

Bunch is probably best known as an accompanist, from Tony Bennett to Scott Hamilton. On tunes like “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Isn’t This a Lovely Day?,” his exquisitely timed little jabs and fills quietly but insistently prod Wess and Vignola into giving their all. Bunch’s style is to the left of Count Basie and to the right of John Lewis, but he makes you think of them when he solos because of his concision, his ability to choose exactly the four notes the air needs. On “All By Myself,” he builds polite swing into a kind of gentlemanly ecstasy.

The performances here are so consistent that your favorite will be determined by personal loyalty to a certain Irving Berlin song. The vote here goes to “They Say It’s Wonderful.” It is lilting and life-affirming and unsentimental, not to mention personal.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.