Alan Rosenthal returns in style and in force after his previous release Just Sayin’. With his new Elbow Grease, Rosenthal is at the piano once again composing eight of the ninetracks. He mixes up the instrumentation nicely with contributions from a topflight core group and line-up of contributors.
The album opens with (Preface)Another Sky with Rosenthal on solo piano. It is a beautiful piece that setsthe stage remarkably for what is to come. It is an excellent piece that effortlessly crosses the boundaries between Bill Evans and Camille Saint-Saëns.Exquisite.
Up the Kazoo follows andshows the first shift of instrumentation and format. Joining Rosenthal’s piano is Alan Chaubert on trumpet, Patience Higgins on tenor sax, Scott Reeves ontrombone, Bill Ware on vibraphone, Brian Glassman on bass and Steve Johns on drums.Johns was with him on Just Sayin’.
The horns pick the fanfare with Ware’s vibessoftly accenting the melodic line. The rhythm section of Glassman and Johns keep it all rolling with a military cadence that is deliciously belied by those vibes.
Blue J is the first of five tracks of the trio setting with only Rosenthal, Glassman’s bass, and MikeCampenni on drums. The trio is my favorite Jazz format and these three do great honor to that setting. The song is as blue as the title suggests but it is set within a lovely melody and a captivating four-note motif. The hint of melancholy never overwhelms the whimsy of this worthy composition and performance.
Drop Me Here keeps the same trio with some excellent interludes and solos from Campenni on drums. Rosenthal lays down a fine melodic line and Glassman grooves beneath. The tune is a catchy number and the fun of the play is palatable to anyone with ears. Listen for the brief tribute to Bo Diddley.
The trio stays on for Guitar Knee. This is a captivating bluesy piece and Rosenthal and the lads just nail it. Glassman works in one cool bass solo while Rosenthal and Campenni swing the rhythm section. Another fine, modulating motif keeps your attention.
The quartet of Rosenthal, Peter Brainin on soprano and tenor sax, John Loehrke on bass and Steve Johns on drumsstep up for Monk Over Marrakesh. The highlights of the soprano sax are countered by the low groans of Loehrke’s bass before returning to the tenor sax. Brainin is fantastic and the interplay between himself and Rosenthal is sweet. Rosenthal’s touch is just so very fine. It’s almost like Thelonious Monk had reimagined the soundtrack for Casablanca as you hear an all-too-brief nod and a wink to As Time Goes By.
Jerome Kern’s They Don’t Believe Me is the only cover on the album and is beautifully rendered by the trio of Rosenthal, Glassman and Campenni. Fine solos from all three of the trio make for compelling listening. Plus, there is no denying the beauty of the tune.
Dextrously is a return to the quartet with Peter Brainin taking on some swinging Dexter Gordon tenor sax impressions. Steve Johns gives what may be his best performance of the album here and Rosenthal is just on fire. It’s easy to get lost in Brainin but Rosenthal just owns this piece. Loehrke’s bass solo is also worthy of rapt attention.
The album closes with Old-Fashioned Valentine. It is the trio that brings the musical feast to a close. In fact, while in danger of overextending the metaphor, they bring the dessert. The ballad is lovely with delicate brush work from Campenni and a precisely measured bass line from Glassman. Still, Rosenthal turns in a performance worthy of a Valentine.
Elbow Grease is yet another jewel in the crown of Alan Rosenthal. He never ceases to amuse, inform, and enlighten. His compositions are extraordinary and his choice of supporting artists is precise and so appropriate. His own performing artistry is exemplary.