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Mark Winkler: The Company I Keep (Café Pacific)

Vocalist taps talents of gifted friends and colleagues in aftermath of loss of his partner

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Mark Winkler: "The Company I Keep"
Mark Winkler: “The Company I Keep”

How do you keep the music playing? So wondered Mark Winkler after the death of Richard Del Belso, his partner and husband of 35 years. Winkler’s solution: count on the support of musical friends. Result: his most richly accomplished album to date.

Several of the participating pals are fellow singers. To open, he teams with Jackie Ryan on Donald Fagen’s “Walk Between the Raindrops,” a delightful reminder of Winkler’s inherent coolness. Up next is Cheryl Bentyne, for a smoothly satisfying take on Prince’s “Strollin’.” Steve Tyrell proves an ideal studio mate on the deliciously tart “But It Still Ain’t So,” a new Winkler co-composition; Sara Gazarek enriches another original, the cuddly “Rainproof”; and Claire Martin is onboard for a magnificent “Stolen Moments,” Mark Murphy’s lyric slightly twisted to honor Murphy himself.

Six pianists (all doubling as arrangers) are featured across the dozen tracks, including Josh Nelson, Jamieson Trotter, John Beasley, David Benoit, Rich Eames—alone with Winkler on the warmly ruminative “Here’s to Life”—and Eric Reed, on Winkler and Marilyn Harris’ “That Afternoon in Harlem,” a charming ode to a faded jazz singer, and the velvety “Love Comes Quietly.” Also on the stellar guest list: guitarist Larry Koonse, drummer Jeff Hamilton, saxophonist Bob Sheppard and bassist John Clayton. And there’s one silent partner, Bill Cantos, who united with Winkler to craft the time-traveling “Midnight in Paris” (a clever nod to the Woody Allen film) and the sagely reflective “The Sum.”

Originally Published