Friday, May 21, 2010

Eric Felten - Seize the Night (Melotone)

A doubler on voice and trombone, Eric Felten shares a page in common with the Jack Teagarden playbook. His methods on both bespeak a more recent vintage, but there’s still something classic in tone about this laidback set. Felten’s lubricious phrasing brings to mind J.J. Johnson and is largely free of grit or growl. No tailgate or gutbucket exclamations here, just a smoothly urbane vocabulary whether he’s phrasing a lead line or a lyric. A Harvard alum, he built his chops gigging with classmen like Joshua Redman and Don Braden, the latter of who handles tenor duties on the set.

Another indictation of Felten’s credentials comes through in the crack rhythm team assembled for the date. Pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Jimmy Cobb are certifiable legends, each with prospective dance cards that are perpetually full. That both agreed to take part in Felten’s project speaks immediately to the clout at his disposal. Bassist Dennis Irwin isn’t far behind on that score and the date carries a bittersweet flavor given it was to be one of his last recording sessions before succumbing to spinal cancer.

Felten recognizes his good fortune in the assembled band and makes the most of the talent. Split almost evenly between standards and originals the program ambles along at a relaxed clip. His pieces jibe knowingly with the smoky after hours renderings from the swing to bop songbook. His lyrics balance vintage and modern topicality, musing on the virtues of amorous spontaneity on the title piece and the advantages of technology in finding a suitable romantic companion on the playful “I’ve Got News For You”. It’s not all Pall Malls and highballs. “Damas de Blanco” balances Cuban and tango elements in a paean to the spouses of political prisoners.

Sinatra is another obvious influence on the vocal front, but Felten heads off any naysayers at the pass by cannily noting: “For a guy singer, almost any song worth singing, Sinatra has already done better than anybody’s going to do it.” The simple and not so simple solution, write your own. It’s a tactic he turns to good practice on this enjoyable date.

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