Harry Whitaker (p), Pat O'Leary (b), Craig Wuepper (d)
Reference: FSRCD 5034
Bar code: 8427328650342
The sound of Harry Whitaker is, first and foremost, the sound of warmth and ease; a relaxed mastery that comes from decades of performing, writing and arranging in every conceivable style. From the glory days of bebop through to blues, R&B, pop, rock, and jazz, Harry has created his own brand of fusion, a welcoming sound that's uniquely his: straightforward, witty, and always swinging. Yet another "unsung hero" of jazz, Harry's been working steadily behind the scenes for 40 years, an now - to paraphrase the opening track - his day has come.
On this CD the trio creates a spontaneous, unrehersed set with the freshness of a live session. "We just went in and played," Harry says. "I like doing it moment-to-moment." It's obvious from the first track - a relaxed and swining Brazilian-flavoured "Our Day Will Come" - that he doesn't make the obvious choices in material or approach. Harry is also of the rare pianists who know how to play the spaces: he draws the most out of any melody without cluttering it up, and his unique harmonic sense adds unexpected spice.
And the best is yet to come. Always enjoyable, ever accessible, the sound of Harry Whitaker is the sound of history - and the sound of the future.
"It took him four decades, but pianist Harry Whitaker headlines his debut album as a band leader of his self-titled trio in The Sound of Harry Whitaker, and judging from these results the wait was worth it. Whitaker's playing, as well as his backup, Pat O'Leary on bass and Craig Wuepper on drums, is admirably accomplished, at once comforting and lively. With Sound, Whitaker borrows from other artists and reinterprets their work with the correct balancing of respect and invention; you sometimes miss, for example, Coltrane's saxophone on such numbers as "Equinox," but you're glad to listen to it reincarnated here, with the soul and energy of the piece still in tact.
Whitaker, O'Leary and Wuepper play confidently, and mesh quite well together; in Whitaker's own words, they go together like "pancakes and syrup." And like true professionals, they do a solid job of not overpowering the other man. Whitaker's piano chords stem organically from the rhythmic backbone of bass and drum support. Such well-rounded dexterity is present on tracks like an old favorite, "Strangers in Paradise," wherein the tempo feels appropriately subdued, while Whitaker garnishes it with a lively grace and caps the tune soulfully. Even better is an uptempo version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Would it be clichéd to say the group hits a homerun? Nope, and it wouldn't quite be lying, either: the tune is respected, yes, but it gives room for the trio to play with brio, zigzag through familiar turf with an energy that makes it feel new.
There's more fine work with "Moonlight in Vermont," featuring a fine drum solo opening the piece, while "Gal in Calico" has a pleasant bass work by O'Leary. "More Than You Know," serves as the album's lush highlight. While it'd be more intriguing (and perhaps result in a stronger album) if more of the work were original, the group tackles the tunes memorably. A final note: "The Fishin' Hole," which television buffs will instantly recognize as the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, but it gets a unique, folksy spin here, Whitaker's piano riffs soliciting chuckles while listeners rekindle their memory with the TV show. Opie rarely had it this good."
Paul West -All About Jazz