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The John Bunch Trio With Guest Frank Wess Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (Except One)

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Album Review

Veteran jazz pianist John Bunch has surrounded himself with standards and swing that showcase an elegant, understated style on his previous four recordings for the Arbors label. CD number five is a tribute to the classic American popular songwriter Irving Berlin, centered in a drummerless combo with unwavering guitarist Frank Vignola and younger yet experienced bassist John Webber. Half of the tracks feature peerless flutist Frank Wess, adding further depth to this stack of well-worn chestnuts. Bunch (age 87 at the time of this recording) has chosen familiar themes, but for the most part assigns Vignola and Wess the lion's share of melodic responsibilities. While Bunch is laying back, he also allows the entire ensemble's lustrous sound to enfold around him — a valuable asset. During the 3/4 introduction of the otherwise 4/4 "What'll I Do?," and especially the bluesy "Isn't This a Lovely Day?," you hear flowering melodies from the sparse voicings of Bunch. The trio collectively jams out on "Soft Lights and Sweet Music," while the pianist shines on the ballad "Better Luck Next Time." Otherwise it is the vibrato-laden flute of Wess that takes center stage, as on the vibrant and bouncy "How Deep Is the Ocean?," the spikier swing of "They Say It's Wonderful," and the hot dancing "Change Partners." He adopts a more atmospheric tone, contrasting the extant bop rhythms, during "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." As much as others have been accorded more due in critics' polls, Frank Wess remains one of the all-time great jazz flute players. Vignola is also no slouch, showing virtuous patience on the lone non-Berlin composition, "Coquette," following Webber's lead line for "The Best Thing for You," and going for a second chorus on the cute tune "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket." You'd be hard-pressed to find anything lackluster on this pleasing album of pure delight, unflagging swing, and excellent mainstream jazz, led by one of the true unsung heroes of American music. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

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