TWO CIGARETTES IN THE DARK / LOESSER: I’ve Never Been in Love Before.* OXMAN: Voss is Boss. Murphy’s Law Impacts L.E.A.P. Murrellcholy. DENNIS-ADAIR: Everything Happens to Me.*+ POLLACK-WEBSTER: Two Cigarettes in the Dark.* MOBLEY: Bossa for Baby.* SIGMAN-RUSSELL: Crazy He Calls Me.*+ JENKINS: Wind Chill. GRIFFIN: Sweet Sucker*/ Keith Oxman, *Houston Person, t-sax; Jeff Jenkins, pno; Ken Walker, bs; Paul Romaine, dm; +Annette Murrell, voc / Capri Records 74161-2
This is the 11th CD on which Denver-based saxist Keith Oxman is the leader. He is an excellent straightahead player with a somewhat light tone in the Lester Young manner, and on this disc he is partnered on six of the 10 tracks by Houston Person, whose darker, more tubular sound makes an effective contrast to that of the leader. In fact, I found that the tracks featuring both Oxman and Person were by far the most interesting due to their contrasting styles, and although they don’t play any actual chase choruses they complement each other spendidly.
I also liked pianist Jeff Jenkins very much. He has a light, airy and swinging approach to the keyboard that includes some really meaty and interesting improvisations. The real downer on this record, for me, was drummer Paul Romaine, a rather innocuous timekeeper who sounds like a metronome. I mean, really like a metronome, with all its annoying clicking and ticking. An electronic drum machine could have done as well.
Oxman really sounds at his best in pieces like Voss is Boss, where he stretches out his improvisations and plays with a richer, fuller tone. Jenkins is again good on this track while Romaine again sounds like a machine.
Annette Murrell sings on two songs here, Everything Happens to Me and Crazy He Calls Me, and thank goodness, she is a singer with a real voice who doesn’t sing in that crappy whispery style that passes for jazz singing nowadays. In fact, her voice reminded me of Betty Carter in its phrasing but with a more pleasant timbre than Carter had. Oxman’s solo is excellent on this one, and Person plays here in a more relaxed manner.
Two Cigarettes in the Dark is a song written by Lew Pollack, a man who is famous (or perhaps infamous) for having written one of the perennial chestnuts of early jazz, That’s A-Plenty. But he also wrote a few other standards in his later years, among them Charmaine, Diane, and one of the few really swinging tunes sung by Shirley Temple, At the Codfish Ball. This one doesn’t have as strong or as memorable a melody line as those others, but it’s a decent tune. Oxman and Person do what they can with it, but for me Jenkins is the real standout on this track. Hank Mobley’s Bossa for Baby has a Jobim feel to it, relaxed and laid-back, and on this one Oxman’s improvisation channels Stan Getz a bit. Murphy’s Law Impacts L.E.A.P. (you’ve got me…I don’t have a clue what that title means) also uses a Latin beat with a straight 4 in the trio theme, but is not as interesting a piece. Romaine plays a klunky drum solo on this one. Murrell returns to sing on the old Billie Holiday classic, Crazy He Calls Me, but although she is good she’s not Billie Holiday. Person’s tenor solo is a standout on this track.
We return to a Latin beat with Wind Chill, a nice little tune with good solos. Johnny Griffin’s Sweet Sucker is also a nice swinger. Neither tune really grabbed me, though.
By and large, this album struck me as a professional blowing date with some good solos (not always by the leader), a perfunctory drummer and a nice vibe for playing softly, late at night when you’re in a jazz mood but don’t want something too challenging. Jeff Jenkins and Houston Person are the real standouts in most of these tracks, and the album is worth hearing for them.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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