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Easy the Hard Way

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Album Review

L.A.-based singer songwriter Mark Winkler has vacillated since his late-'80s recording debut from contemporary jazz-based pop-vocal stylings to traditional jazz, with the latter usually tucked neatly among the former, hiding his true artistic leanings behind the commercial expectations his labels have placed on him. While his pop tunes have never failed to delight, his first full foray into traditional jazz vocals here is a homecoming and a revelation, putting Winkler in the lead to become the new millennium's male equivalent to Diana Krall (he has yet to dye his hair blond, though!). Providing sharp images and poignant, melancholy lyrics that speak of heartache, redemption, a love of jazz (the swinging tribute to a fan, "Ellen's Song"), and the supreme coolness of an attitude "Like Jazz," Winkler's true genius is blending his words with the outstanding melodic jazz sensibilities of some of L.A.'s best contemporary and traditional composers — Emilio Palame, Don Grusin (the title track), Eddie Arkin, Larry Steelman and Wayne Shorter. Though a tune like the opening track "Trio" — which discusses the pain of lost love in terms of "the moon, my heartache and me" — could easily become a love on the rocks standard someday, Winkler is also a sharp interpreter of the mood pieces of the past, including Andre Previn's "Like Young," Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman," and George Duning's "Toys in the Attic." Winkler and singer Claire Martin's sassy duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" rivals Barry Manilow and KT Oslin's version some ten years ago for sheer push and pull emotion. The singer/songwriter draws some material from previous releases, each fitting the mood. "Another Night" is from his autobiographical tour de force Tales from Hollywood and "Kelly's Moods" is from his debut album. Those enjoying the beautiful "Quiet Fire" might seek out tickets to Winkler's soon to be off Broadway musical Too Old for the Chorus, featuring the song of the same name. Winkler has lived all these emotions and has never sounded better.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Known for his smooth, relaxed, laid-back sense of swing, Mark Winkler is a flexible vocalist/songwriter whose influences (direct or indirect) include Dave Frishberg, Mose Allison, Kenny Rankin, and Michael Franks (among others). The Los Angeles resident is comfortable in either jazz or pop settings; he has done his share of traditional pop and crossover jazz/smooth jazz work, but he can also handle straight-ahead jazz and bop. Whether a Winkler recording has a jazz improviser's perspective or more...
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Easy the Hard Way, Mark Winkler
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