The title Late Bloomin’ Jazzman could be taken as the prolific, award-winning singer/composer’s mini-autobiography or as an homage to late-bloomin’ jazzmen (and women) in general. The album, the 60-something Winkler’s 20th as a leader, includes eight original compositions and four standards—“Old Devil Moon” and the warhorse “It Ain’t Necessarily So” among them—each focusing on his vocal elasticity, keen sense of phrasing, and smart choices. The original material reveals new lyrical pearls with each fresh listen; the covers open up the familiar in new ways. There’s a lot to like here.
Winkler employs four different groups of musicians to flesh out the material. The title track (and album centerpiece) kicks in with a brief but robust solo bassline from Gabe Davis, soon joined by pianist Jamieson Trotter, guitarist Grant Geissman, and drummer Christian Euman. The song, with music by Eli Brueggemann and lyrics by Winkler, is one that any aging artist should be proud to adopt as an anthem: “Watching you I know the world is wrong,” Winkler half-sings, half-boasts, “so wrong/’Cause you’re playing stronger, the longer in the tooth.” Take that, punks!
“If Gershwin Had Lived,” the album-ending ballad, features a more traditional, bold vocal performance. Davis, Euman, and Geissman return, joined now by pianist Rick Eames, whose sweeping melodic line dominates. Winkler, as the title suggests, riffs on a classic what-if: “Now, he wrote a lot of great songs, and I’m grateful for that,” he sings, “but his star burned out much too soon/And sometimes I get to thinking ’bout the things he left undone, and I sure would’ve loved one more tune.”
We all would have. But as long as there are still conscious, creative songwriters such as Mark Winkler to do the job, we’re in good hands.