If you need your vocal jazz pure and hip, look no further than “Old Friends”, the new album by singer Mark Winkler and longtime friend, pianist David Benoit. Having known each other for 37 years now, you might think that they are using some sort of safety net for their joint collaboration (they have worked together on some of Mark’s earlier albums), but they both come up with a lot of surprises and twists and turns on the album so that there is never a dull or formulaic moment.
The repertoire is top-notch, but then again for someone like Mark just doing the worn-out Great American Songbook, would be simply too far below grandeur. The most familiar, or the most recorded song on this collection of 13 tracks, is probably Johnny Mandel‘s “The Shadow Of Your Smile”. But Mark comes up with a simple, attractive vocal arrangement, augmented by the sensitive guitar playing of Pat Kelley, making this an altogether fresh and inspiring new interpretation of this classic.
Both of them worked on Jane Monheit‘s “2 In Love” album (2015) and one of the tracks appears here again: the beautiful “Dragonfly” works exceptionally well with the added cello of Stefanie Fife. About the preparations for the album, Mark says that “it turns out, you can actually sing while wearing a mask. And it was easy to stay separated. He sat playing at one end of his 9-foot grand, and I stood singing at the other end”. Tunes like “Two For The Road” just perfectly fit to the theme of the album. The warmth both exude on this Henry Mancini classic is utterly encompassing, as it is on their duet of “Thirty Years (Only Sunshine Days)”, with David not only simply accompanying Mark, but rather picking up on his mood and moves. The Paul Simon medley of “Old Friends” and “Bookends” is beauty in perfection. Mark sings this with a poignant sensitivity, with profound wisdom and grace.
He tells the story of Dave Frishberg‘s “Sweet Kentucky Ham”, a longtime favorite of Blossom Dearie’s repertoire, with one of the most alluring interpretations coming from Rosie Clooney on her “Girl Singer” album, as honest and persuasive as possible. But mind you, Mark is a serious swinger too. His “Better Than Anything” oozes panache and wit. And the album opener “I’ve Got Just About Everything” (Bob Dorough) has him transporting so much fun and grit over to the speakers that is simply refreshing. Another Johnny Mandel piece, “I Wish I’d Met You”, with lyrics by Frank Underwood and Richard Rodney Bennett and another voice/piano duet, almost made me forgot the most heartbreaking version of the tune, recorded by Carol Sloane on her “Love You Madly” LP (1989).
We’re also taken back to the 80s GRP days with “Kei’s Song”, written by David for his wife for his 1987 LP “Freedom At Midnight” and now with lyrics by Mark. On Randy Newman‘s classic “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”, one of three tunes here with accompanying cello, Mark excels with a thoroughly ingenious vocal performance. And David and Mark save the best for last. Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent recorded the definitive version of “Some Other Time” for their 1975 LP “Where Is Love?”, but Mark comes up with an irresistibly resonating version, proving once again why he is one of the most consummate vocalists around.
To be released on February 19th.