Randy Sandke: Cliffhanger (2003)
This is the perfect CD for the Scrooges in your life who insist that "jazz is dead." From the incandescent opener to the racing finish, it's a crackling, masterful, joyous set of classic jazz playing – not a big surprise given the folks involved. Randy Sandke is one of the best trumpeters around. With great tone and chops, he swings hard and clean, also stepping up to deliver a beautiful ballad (as in the glorious "What's New," with its occasional side trips to the stratosphere, and the yummy "I Fall in Love Too Easily"). His trades with rising tenor star Harry Allen are worth a careful listen.
The inimitable Mulgrew Miller needs no introduction, nor do the Washingtons on rhythm (related by talent, not blood), who most recently have been two thirds of the Bill Charlap Trio. Labelmate Wycliffe Gordon adds his rich, fluent trombone to the playful title track, one of three Sandke originals; more progressive than the rest of the material, it creates an interesting contrast. You can hear the fun this group is having – for example, the lively treatment of "Willow Weep for Me," with its tongue-in-cheek parallels to "All Blues," and their witty derangement of "Limehouse Blues."
But back to those Scrooges. If they can listen to the finger-poppers on this CD without having to keep time with some portion of their anatomy – or at least cracking a smile – you might consider taking them off your Christmas list altogether, since they're clearly gloomy people who are too stubborn to learn. No, Virginia, jazz is not dead, as this sparkling CD makes abundantly clear.
Track Listing: Let's Face the Music and Dance, Nobody Else But Me, What's New, Come Rain or Come Shine, One for Mulgrew, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Cliffhanger, One Fine Day in May, I Concentrate on You, Willow Weep for Me, No Moon at All, Lighthouse Blues
Personnel: Randy Sandke (trumpet, flugelhorn), Harry Allen (tenor sax), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone, one track)