For his 14th date as a leader, Contemporary Smooth Jazz Guitarist Chris Standring has taken a break from his accustomed commercial explorations to follow a long time dream of marrying orchestral grandeur alongside the institution of the American Popular Songbook. The result – Wonderful World – is a wonderful set of eleven often played tunes that pays reverence to the tradition while adding more than a little “sumpin’ sumpin’” in the form of a nineteen piece string section.
Songs like “How Insensitive”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Falling In Love With Love” and “My Foolish Heart” – along with the rest – get the royal treatment as the flourishing orchestral maneuverings come courtesy of Bassist/Arranger Geoff Gascoyne’s luxuriant arrangements. Listen to “Autumn in New York” and “Night And Day” to hear the full complement of how wonderful these string charts truly sound.
First and foremost though is Chris Standring’s guitar playing which is silky, tasteful and time-honored in its deference to the melodic and harmonic fabric inherent in these timeless classics. As an improviser – whether on electric or nylon string (“My Foolish Heart”) – Standring keeps his soloing pretty close to the vest and is not attempting to reinvent the wheel, preferring to maintain a melodious and steadfast approach in his blowing. That being said, he’s certainly no slouch either. He handles the changes nicely and just check out his beautiful solo guitar work on “Alfie” or how he contrapuntally explores the intro to the Bossa classic “Estate”. Some very nice playing indeed and on point with his smooth Guitar-Slinger rep!
And speaking of reputation, joining Standring on this album – in a musical chairs kind of way – are Drummers Harvey Mason, Peter Erskin and David Karsony along with Bassists Chuck Berghofer and Derak Oles who appear in a variety of trio combinations. As Standring states on his website: “I think there’s something magical about the sound of a guitar and orchestra playing together, but I won’t always be in situations where it’s possible to use an orchestra. So the arrangements had to be flexible enough to work in a trio setting.”
Going from a core trio setting to a quartet, Vocalist Kathrin Shorr joins Standring on the popular Louis Armstrong hit “What A Wonderful World”, providing a sultry styling to this evergreen classic as Standring’s warm guitar sound matches the tone and vibe of the melancholy arrangement. Trumpeter extraordinaire Randy Brecker joins Standring on the one original composition featured on this album – “Sunrise” -as he plays his Flugelhorn beautifully through the harmonic passages adding a wonderful and distinctive voice to the mix. More of him on future albums please 🙂
As mentioned, the tunes chosen for this particular project are pretty much standard fare for lovers of Classic Popular Jazz, regardless of instrumentation. However – at least for me – there were a some enjoyable surprises such as the aforementioned Standring original “Sunrise” and his cover of Donald Fagen’s “Maxine” from the Nightfly album, which I found to be a pleasant way of bringing a more contemporary sound to balance things out a bit.
As I wrap this up, let me remind you that this album is about melody and feeling. It has an affection and sensitivity – both in the tunes chosen and Geoff Gascoyne’s string arrangements – that speaks of a respect and admiration in regards to the original composers. This album may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, there’s no denying that Chris Standring has a fondness for these songs from the American Songbook that jibes with his own voice and that of his listening audience. The additional orchestral flavor bolsters a sense of nostalgia that brings the listener back to a simpler time, to a time, dare I say it, where it was indeed a Wonderful World.
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