Alexis Cole: I Carry Your Heart

Earlier this fall, a mammoth labor of love by Gary Carner, sax giant Pepper Adams’ biographer and discographer, finally came to fruition with Motéma’s digital release of the five-volume tribute Pepper Adams’ Joy Road Project, featuring contemporary recordings of Adams’ entire compositional output, totaling 43 tracks. The label has since issued a physical CD sampler of highlights from the first four volumes and a standalone version of the fifth, and arguably most intriguing, volume. According to Carner, Adams, who succumbed to lung cancer in 1986 at age 56, long wished that seven of his ballads be fitted with lyrics. Carner assigned the challenging task to poet Barry Wallenstein, who responds with words as imaginative and elegant as Adams’ melodies. His search for the right vocalist to interpret the Adams-Wallenstein songbook began and ended with Alexis Cole, singled out, says Carner, for her “astounding musicianship and good taste.”

Since the ballads were also included on the set’s other volumes, Carner wanted to shake them up a bit, and asked pianist/arranger Jeremy Kahn (who’d written all the charts for volumes one through four) to get inventive. So “Civilization and Its Discontents” is reimagined as a slow Latin burner, the Cannonball Adderley tribute “Julian” as a scintillating, 10-minute cooker that finds Cole in an Anita O’Day groove, and “Lovers of Their Time” as a dreamy waltz. The title track is gloriously funkified and later revisited as a straight-ahead Cole-Kahn duet. Though it’s Cole’s name above the title, no Adams salute would be complete without some sensational sax work, and Carner corrals (but in no way tames) two of the finest tenormen around, Pat LaBarbera and Eric Alexander.