JAZZBO NOTES RECOMMENDED RECORDING
Normally, I don’t listen to a lot of straight ahead mainstream jazz, but I’ve got to admit, I was quite taken with Mikey’s Waltz.
Guitarist Mike Wheeler has chops galore, an inventive melodic sense, a lovely tone slightly reminiscent of Joe Pass, and judging from his unerring ability to swing, a metronome implanted in his brain. In fact, swing is central to the appeal of Mikey’s Waltz.
This isn’t her date, but pianist Pamela York is every bit as competent as Wheeler. Her touch can be lush and lyrical, as on the eponymous opener, Mikey’s Waltz, or punchy, as on the medium up samba, Fair Trade. Her single note runs are tasteful and don’t sound like she’s just reaching into a trick bag. It sounds to me like she’s really working out the melodies in real time. Another impressive thing — it can be a challenge for a pianist to play with a guitarist and not get in his way, but Pamela York and Mike Wheeler weave in and around each other with ease. They’re collaboration is a pleasure to listen to.
I didn’t get as strong of an impression from the rhythm team of Tim Solook on drums and David Craig on bass, but that isn’t any knock on them. They aren’t really the focus of the date. Solook swings gently but insistently behind York and Wheeler, although I suspect that the rhythmic sense of these two is so strong, they could have done the date as a duo and it would have been almost as effective. David Craig’s lines on bass are original and apt, and he works seamlessly with Solook. Together, Solook and Craig provide an unobtrusive rhythmic bed for the soloists, which is just right for this kind of music.
But what about the tunes? There are four covers, but with the exception of Prelude To A Kiss, they aren’t the ones that have been played to death. The remaining five compositions are originals. There is a fair amount of variety on Mikey’s Waltz, not only in the type of compositions, but in how they are played. There are waltzes, ballads, sambas, and swing tunes.
On Freewheelin’, Wheeler appropriates the melodic rhythm of Miles Davis’ composition, Tune-Up, and bends it to his own purposes.
Snew has a Western swing feel to it, almost like a Bob Willis track.
One of the things you start to notice about Mike Wheeler’s strategy as a composer is that he’ll take a phrase and transpose variations of the same melodic rhythm to other chords, giving his melodies a built-in logical consistency. Subconsciously, these and similar composing tricks allow listeners to layer the improvisations over this pattern, so that the solos have a context. That’s one of the reasons that Mikey’s Waltz is such a pleasure.
On two out of the four covers, Mike Wheeler plays guitar without any accompaniment, most impressively on I Wish I Knew. Wheeler manages to give a creditable solo, hold the shape of the tune, and never once drop the swing time until he repeats the melody in intentionally rubato fashion.
The inclusion of Prelude To A Kiss is justified by a tasteful if minor reharmonization of the theme. David Craig’s forthright bass solo, with Wheeler gently comping behind him, is a highlight of the tune.
One more thing I’d like to mention. The production on Mikey’s Waltz, as on all of the Blue Bamboo Music releases I’ve heard so far, is bright, clean, and serves to communicate the intentions of the artists with the fewest distractions possible. That’s a pretty good philosophy, if you ask me.
If you’d like listen to samples of this music, click here.