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Mark Winkler – new album ‘The Rules Don’t Apply’

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    Posted: 11 Jun 2024 at 3:42am
Los Angeles-based, platinum-selling jazz singer and lyricist Mark Winkler’s new album The Rules Don’t Apply is released in the UK on 28 June, and he is performing at Pizza Express Soho on 9 July to launch it, in the company of Claire Martin. Feature by Andrew Cartmel. 

Mark Winkler is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. One might also allude to his more than 250 songs performed by the likes of Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Liza Minelli; the awards, and the off-Broadway shows which have been running for decades; not to mention the comparisons with the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Dave Frishberg and Mose Allison…

Gifted and canny, Winkler’s keenly aware that he has a place in a long and honourable lineage — he teaches songwriting, and he’s recorded albums devoted to the work of Bobby Troup and Laura Nyro. But his centre of gravity is always jazz, which he clearly both loves and understands deeply: “My mother was a big band singer and I heard a lot of singers in the house. I remember particularly liking Sarah Vaugh and Judy Garland. But I didn’t really turn on to jazz until I went to high school and it mostly had a Black student body — my friends threw away my Lesley Gore records (I did like her) and gave me Nina Simone albums. I also had a teacher who’d play us Ahmad Jamal records and we’d have to write about how his music made us feel. So that’s where I started digging jazz.”

His new album is The Rules Don’t Apply. The title is from a song with lyrics by Lorraine Feather, whom Winkler regards as one of the three best jazz songwriters currently operating on the scene (just for the record, the other two are Gregory Porter and René Marie). “I would love to do an album of Lorraine Feather tunes. I’ve done her tunes on my last two albums. I just think she’s brilliant as a lyricist.”

From the opening moments of the first cut on the album, Sunday in LA, Winkler communicates a jazz sensibility tinged with sardonic intelligence which brings to mind Donald Fagen. An impression confirmed almost immediately by the second track, IGY (What a Beautiful World), a bracing arrangement of the Fagen composition by John Beasley, which brings out more poignant nuances in the song than in the original. Among players who set a consistently high standard, George Doering’s plangent guitar and Bob Sheppard’s adroitly tender tenor sax deserve special mention here.


The Rules Don’t Apply combines five covers with eight original compositions (like Sunday in LA), showing the range and intensity of Mark Winkler’s musical convictions. Among the originals, the wonderfully titled If These Walls Could Talk (They’d Swing) is dedicated to the Capitol Records Recording Studios in LA, that iconic cylindrical edifice like a pile of stacked records situated just north of Hollywood and Vine. The song is an intoxicating blast of nostalgic love conveyed in neatly lyrical imagery: “Nat Cole’s Steinway is on my right…Sinatra used to sing from there… I’m not alone, there are giants in the room… All the finest players in town/Johnny Mercer talking changes with Ray Brown”. Winkler wrote these lovely lyrics in collaboration with Shelly Nyman and Bill Cantos. The music was composed by Greg Gordon Smith, who also arranged it.

The next original, Jazz Swings, observes that “Ella didn’t learn to sing in school” and is beguilingly structured around Bob Sheppard’s alluring clarinet. The lyrics are by Winkler set to music composed and arranged by Rich Eames. Mark Winkler appreciates high quality arrangements. “My first mentor was a wonderful arranger — Jimmie Haskell who did Ode to Billie Joe and Bridge Over Troubled Water. I met him in high school and he really started me writing. His arrangements are great. Of course, I love Johnny Mandel’s Shirley Horn album Here’s to Life and Nelson Riddle’s work with Frank Sinatra and so many others. And also Claus Ogerman — I love the stuff he did with Tommy LiPuma.”

There’s no arranger needed on Here’s To Jazz, a stripped down trio number featuring Jamieson Trotter on piano with Gabe Davis on bass and Clayton Cameron on drums. It’s an affectionate, knowing tribute to Winkler’s beloved music. Trotter’s playing has an exploratory dexterity and wit, but it’s not as witty as the lyrics: “Here’s to flatted sevenths and altered elevenths… To Satchmo and Bird/And chords seldom heard… For Ella and Prez/For Diz in his fez.”

While these new songs offer an immediate appeal with their humour, musicality and warmth, it’s the covers which really reveal the extent of Winkler’s artistry because they provide the listener with the chance to compare a new interpretation with the familiar original version. Paul Simon’s Something So Right is particularly beautifully and affectingly done and is potently impressive in the way that Winkler’s vocals, supported by Doering’s ghostly guitar and John Beasley’s warmly preaching piano, extract colours and emotions that go even beyond Simon’s version.

The song has a subtle New Orleans feel which comes explicitly to the fore in Randy Newman’s Mama Told Me Not To Come where Brian Swart’s trumpet is supplemented by a crack horn section including James Ford on trumpet, Errol Rhoden on tuba, Danny Janklow on reeds and Scott Whitfield warbling ecstatically on trombone. The Crescent City interpretation even extends to Mark Winkler namechecking “Stella” in the lyrics. Shades of Streetcar

Lessons I’ve Learned is a showcase for Grant Geissman on guitar amd Jamieson Trotter’s spare and lyrically percussive piano but also serves as summation for the singer. “The knowledge I’ve gained as the years have explained… I keep looking ahead to the future.”

Looking ahead to the future, Mark Winkler’s excellent album is released in the UK on 28 June, and he is performing at Pizza Express Soho to launch it in the company of Claire Martin on 9 July. Don’t miss it.


from https://londonjazznews.com 

Edited by snobb - 11 Jun 2024 at 3:42am
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