Mark Winkler Announces New CD and Upcoming Appearances
Sweet Spot, the latest release from West Coast cool jazz vocalist Mark Winkler,spotlights the multitalented singer/songwriter's smooth swinging voice and hip insightful lyrics on what may well be the critically acclaimed song man's best outing yet. Winkler, who has earned an abundance of accolades throughout a thirty plus year career, during which he's recorded numerous albums as a leader, while writing dozens of songs that have been recorded by artists ranging from Bob Dorough, Dianne Reeves and Randy Crawfordto Claire Martin, Liza Minnelli and Lea Salonga. Noted for his well toned baritone, which has cast him as an heir apparent to his primary influence Mark Murphy, as well as his witty sophisticated lyrics that have been astutely described in Jazz Times as possessing the urbanity of Cole Porter and drollness of Dave Frishberg, Winkler dishes out listeners a healthy dose of both on the date's dozen tracks.
Joining Winkler on this delightful disc, in addition to the members of his regular working groups -- pianists/arrangers Eli Brueggemann and Emilio Palame, bassists Tim Emmons, Wade Short and Ryan McGillicuddy, and drummers Steve Barnes and Bob Leatherbarrow -- are some Los Angeles' finest jazz men, including saxophonist/flutist Bob Sheppard, guitarists Grant Geissman and Anthony Wilson, pianist Billy Childs, bassist Robert Hurst and percussionist Lenny Castro, as well as special guest vocalist, West Coast Blues Queen Barbara Morrison, who trades lines with the leader on his title track. With Winkler in the role of leading man, heading the allstar cast rave reviews are sure to be in store.
The date opens coolly with Winkler's version of "Like Young." Pianist Eli Brueggemann's beatnik styled finger snapping (bolstered by Bob Sheppard's tenor) sets the easy grooving tempo to his arrangement of the popular André Previn melody before Mark makes his entrance, singing the slyly hip words by master lyricist Paul Francis Webster (best known for his Academy Award winning words to "Secret Love," "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" and "The Shadow Of Your Smile"). Winkler begins his reading in an almost hushed tone, akin to a male Peggy Lee, before opening up to a wide bodied sound that marks him as one of the hardest swinging singers in jazz today.
"Catch Me If You Can"introduces Winkler the insightful lyricist on a heart beating bossa nova cowritten with pianist Brueggemann. With the addition of Grant Geissman's guitar to the previous track's backing quartet providing further rhythmic drive to the group, Mark takes off on a Caribbean adventure, flying high over the intoxicating melody as he sensuously sings the song of a traveling man who cannot be tied down.
An unabashed fan of Georgie Fame, Winkler's rendition of the George and Ira Gershwin classic "But Not For Me" - arranged by Brueggemann - was inspired by the British R&B/jazz icon's version, heard on his Ben Sidran produced Poet In New York album. Mark opens with the song's rarely heard verse, accompanied solely by Steve Barnes' brushes, before being joined by the rest of the rhythm section for his classic jazz styled swinging of the well known words and melody.
Winkler's title track "Sweet Spot" (cowritten with "sly crooner"-radio personality Geoffrey Leigh Tozer) features the singer sharing the vocal spotlight with veteran songstress Barbara Morrison on a down home blues. Brueggemann switches to Hammond B3 organ and guitarist Geissman digs deep into his roots on this powerful venture that also showcases Sheppard's wailing horn. The pair's voices ooze with sensuality as they team up to sing about "their private little treat" using archetypal double entendre to thinly veil the piece's very sexy message.
"This Side Of Loving," with its words and music by Winkler, is beautifully arranged by the great Billy Childs. Well known for his work as music director for Grammy Award winning vocalist Dianne Reeves, who has recorded several of Mark's lyrics, the pianist, joined by bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Greg Hutchinson in the rhythm section, utilizes the muted trumpet of Nolan Shaheed to create a haunting atmosphere that is the perfect complement to the composer's stirring narrative of lost love and loneliness.
The mood changes to a lighthearted one on Winkler and Jamieson Trotter's "Somewhere In Brazil (West Coast)." With Brueggemann back in the piano chair making a "disgruntled guest vocal" appearance, Mark recounts his sorry story about working one of those "gigs from hell" that most vocalists must endure. With a sly smile he remembers, "Singing while they munch on their salad/Pi?a colada machine on my ass/Every time I do a ballad/But it doesn't matter/'Cause in my mind I'm in Rio," with Sheppard's airy flute lending a breezy atmosphere to the amusing bossa nova.
"After Hours"dates back to Winkler's very first date as a leader "Color Of Love." The song, cowritten with Dan Siegel, showcases Mark at his most soulful, as he opens up impressively over the piano and organ of Emilio Palame, backed by a Blues Brothers styled horn section. More than 25 years since its first recording, the powerful piece proves more than worthy of revival.
A playwright of note (critically acclaimed asthe co-writer of the eleven year running hit Musical Review Naked Boys Singing!), "On Broadway" was a natural addition to the Winkler repertoire. Arranged by Richard Eames, opening with the horn section wailing jazzily over a "Killer Joe" bass line, Mark sings the lyric with passion, living up to Mark Murphy's assessment that he "lays it out soooo pretty, so smooth-and then dares to switch to an edgy NYC groove."
"Jazz Is A Special Taste"is a selection from Winkler's latest musical Play It Cool, which opens Off Broadway this September 13th in New York, following a successful West Coast run. Confessional in tone, he sings perceptively about the nature of the oft-misunderstood music that possesses him, movingly describing it as "a blue note from me to you."
Mark again reaches back to his Color Of Love debut date to reprise another favorite - a vocal rendering of his lyric to David Benoit's popular "Some Other Sunset." Buoyed by Peter White's guitar and Lenny Castro's percussion, the singer conjures the charmed mood of Caribbean romance.
Winkler's longstanding romance with the music of Bobby Troup was resoundingly consummated on his 2003 release Sings Bobby Troup, on which he delivered his own personal interpretations to a dozen of the famous songwriter's compositions. Inspired by Sue Raney's recording, here he intimate renders "Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring," accompanied by the great young guitarist Anthony Wilson in a duo performance.
Concluding on a light note, Winkler reprises his "Somewhere In Brazil (East Coast)" as a bonus track. This time the "gig from hell" is in New Jersey and he cleverly rhymes "stuck out here in Secaucus ... the dinner crowd is quite raucous," before returning in his imagination to a dream club date in Rio.
A uniquely personal jazz singer/songwriter, able to convey his own life stories - both happy and sad - in words and music that touch all in the know who hear them, Mark Winkler is only beginning to receive the credit he truly deserves. Sweet Spot is the latest chapter in narrative of a man who sings and swings to the beat of his own very perceptive mind and heart in a manner that admiring fellow vocalist has noted never bores with the expected.