George Graham: With More Help from My Friends
The first thing one notices about trumpeter George Graham is his absolutely gorgeous tone; the second is that no matter how small or elusive the musical target, he never misses; the third is that this consummate lead trumpeter is also a remarkably sure–fingered and persuasive Jazz soloist. We could go on, but you get the idea. Most of us have heard the one about the singer who’d rather dance, and vice versa. In most cases the singer or dancer has made the proper choice, as those who can do it all — the Sammy Davis Jrs. and Fred Astaires of the world, for example — are rare indeed. George Graham is another of those singular artists, an unsurpassed section leader / studio musician who proves again on his second CD (the first, With a Lot of Help from My Friends, is on Sea Breeze Records, No. 2089) that his improvisational voice is not only uncommonly strong but unfailingly articulate. Graham has paid his dues as section leader for many West Coast ensembles including those led by pianist Bob Florence and saxophonist Tom Kubis, both of whom are on board to enhance Graham’s second album, as they were on the first. Florence, who doubles as pianist throughout, wrote and arranged “Scraping the Top of the Barrel” and “Graham Cracker,” co–authored “Pretty” (with Gail Allen) and arranged the enchanting ballad “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” which closes the album on a lovely note, both literally and figuratively; Kubis composed and arranged “Kinda 2 Kinda 3” and arranged “Peanut Face” (written by Mrs. Kubis, Carol Jolin), “But Beautiful,” “I Found a New Baby,” “My Heart Will Go On,” Steve Allen’s spirited “Samba Dee Else” and Juan Tizol’s well–traveled “Caravan,” on which he also plays tenor sax. Ramon Flores composed and arranged “My Marilyn” for Graham’s wife, who co–produced the album. While Graham takes most of the solos, Florence has his turn on “Scraping the Barrel,” “My Marilyn” and “Wee Small Hours,” and trombonist Bob McChesney weighs in on “Kinda 2 Kinda 3.” Graham’s ensemble is an all–star group with such familiar names (to big-band aficionados) as saxophonists Sal Lozano, Don Shelton, Terry Harrington and Tom Peterson; trumpeters Wayne Bergeron, Rick Baptist, Warren Luening and Ron King; trombonists McChesney, Chauncey Welsch, Alex Iles and Rich Bullock; pianist Florence, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Gregg Field. The newcomers (to me at least) are saxophonist Beverly Dahlke-Smith and trumpeter Beverly Smith, who must be excellent players or they wouldn't be here. As Graham writes, "I am so blessed to have friends such as these. My band members are among the finest in the world." As for Graham himself, Jazz educator and trumpeter Fred Berry wraps the package neatly in Dr. Herb Wong's liner notes: "He's a lead trumpeters' lead trumpeter. George does not miss. Most lead players aren't good Jazz players, but George plays Jazz excellently. . . .There's nothing he can't do on the horn." And there's not much that Graham leaves undone on More Help, from crackling up-tempo sorties to more moderately-paced toe-tappers, from samba ("Scraping the Top of the Barrel," "Samba Dee Else") to bossa ("Pretty") to achingly lovely ballads, on each of which Graham's assurance and control are nothing short of breathtaking. He plays open much of the time but employs a mute on "Graham Cracker," which he dedicates to fellow trumpeter Snooky Young, and "My Marilyn." For striking examples of Graham's superb Jazz chops, try "Peanut Face," "Caravan," "Pretty" - or any other track, for that matter, as he never fails to deliver the goods. Nor does Graham's second album, which is among the finest we've heard in the new millennium.
Contact:Pippo Avenue Records, P.O. Box 370, Brentwood, CA 94513; George Graham, P.O. Box 38, Sunland, CA 91041–0038. Phone 818–353–1817; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: Peanut Face; Caravan; But Beautiful; Scraping the Top of the Barrel; Kinda 2 Kinda 3; Graham Cracker; Pretty; My Marilyn; I Found a New Baby; My Heart Will Go On; Samba Dee Else; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (60:31).
Personnel: George Graham, leader, trumpet; Tom Kubis, conductor; Sal Lozano, Don Shelton, Terry Harrington, Tom Peterson, Beverly Dahlke
Record Label: Pippo Avenue
Style: Big Band