Mike Melvoin: Oh Baby (2002)
Oh Baby is about as good a jazz piano trio album as you’ll ever hear, at least in this millennium. Mike Melvoin is one of the unsung heroes of the music industry, a prolific composer/arranger/producer for countless albums, television shows and films. As a pianist he’s logged more hours in the recording studio than just about any pianist on the planet. He’s been President of NARAS, he’s been the musical director for the Grammy Awards, and now he’s going back to his first love, straight ahead jazz.
With the infectious swing of Ahmad Jamal, the acute harmonic sensitivity of Bill Evans and the deft dexterity of Chick Corea, Mike Melvoin is the consummate jazz pianist. And his sidemen are every bit his equal. John Guerin on drums has impeccable dynamic control that propels the beat but never overwhelms; his solos overflow with taste and musical sensitivity. Brian Bromberg on bass is a phenomenon of nature. The speed at which he plays double- and triple-stops would lead one to believe that he has three or perhaps four arms. And to top it all off, he has impeccable time.
The first tune on the album is the old standard “There Is No Greater Love” which sounds like versions recorded by Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal. Melvoin’s solo here is typical of his solos throughout the album. Every note and chord is in its proper place. There’s nothing superfluous or unnecessary, and when he pulls off a run of 16th or 32nd notes, it’s for a musical purpose, not just to show off.
This is followed by Melvoin’s own composition “The Melody Is You,” a jazz waltz with a hint of Bill Evans. The musicians demonstrate here that you don’t have to play loudly to swing. Guerin’s brush work is a model for all drummers, and Bromberg offers up an inspired solo.
“You and the Night and the Music” is next, and it is a real delight to hear this neglected song performed on this album. The arrangement starts off with piano sans bass and drums and then goes into an understated medium swing. As the arrangement progresses, the volume and intensity increase ever so gradually, ultimately climaxing in a rousing finale.
Another Melvoin original, “Sandy,” follows, and this time the trio is joined by Tom Scott on alto sax. After a slow piano introduction, Melvoin states the chordal theme, somewhat similar to “Giant Steps,” but in a relaxed mode. Like Melvoin, reedman Tom Scott is a studio legend but a jazz artist of the first caliber.
“North Star,” a Melvoin original tune in a fast Latin groove, is next on the set. The feel of the song and performance is very much in the manner of Eliane Elias and Eddie Gomez. Brian Bromberg delivers a phenomenal solo.
My personal favorite of all the tunes recorded on this album is the very unique arrangement of “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Most people who are familiar with this song always think of the recording made by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. After a slow solo piano introduction, it quickly shifts gears into an up-tempo straight ahead swinger. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the song performed this way, but it works wonderfully.
“Fifth Power” has Tom Scott joining the trio again, but this time on soprano sax. This modern sounding piece alternates between a modal theme and straight ahead sections. Another very interesting arrangement is that of “So in Love.” Although done in a medium tempo straight ahead version, the chords are revoiced in such a way that this standard is given a fresh lease on its harmonic life.
The album’s title track, “Oh Baby,” is the final composition on the CD. This fast swinger starts off with piano and bass in unison playing a theme that brings back memories of “Billie’s Bounce.” From there it’s off to the races as Melvoin, Bromberg and Guerin engage in a display of virtuosic chops.
Oh Baby is a fine album by an outstanding jazz pianist and jazz combo. Maybe Mike Melvoin should be onstage receiving a Grammy instead of directing the show.
Track Listing: There Is No Greater Love; The Melody Is You; You and the Night and the Music; Sandy; North Star; I'll Never Smile Again; Fifth Power; So in Love; Oh Baby
Personnel: Mike Melvoin, piano; John Guerin, drums; Brian Bromberg, bass; Tom Scott, alto and soprano saxophone