Thursday, January 28, 2021

Wayne Alpern: “Jukebox” (2021) CD Review

Wayne Alpern continues to surprise and delight me with his arrangements of standards and popular songs. I love that his interests seem to cover the spectrum, and his new album, Jukebox, includes classical, jazz, pop, show tunes, and rock songs. That is one heck of an unusual jukebox. The musicians performing on this release are the Dorian Wind Quintet, made up of Gretchen Pusch on flute, Gerard Reuter on oboe, Benjamin Fingland on clarinet, Karl Kramer-Johansen on horn, and Adrian Morejon on bassoon.

Jukebox opens with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” here listed as “Accustomed To Her Face.” This rendition of the My Fair Lady song has both a sweet and a somewhat lonesome vibe, as he’s reflecting for the moment on this woman and the impact she’s made on his world. You really do get the sense that he will miss her, and this track ends up being quite moving. It is followed by “All The Things You Are,” which has a lighter, more joyful vibe from the start, in large part due to the work on flute. It becomes even more playful approximately halfway through, each of the instruments adding its voice, its observations. Somehow this music seems to lift the cares and weights from our shoulders. Things become a bit more serious with “Bartok Chorale.” I was a teenager when I was turned on to the music of Béla Bartók, and it was because of a novel I was reading at the time, Richard Bach’s The Bridge Across Forever. As I recall, Bartók’s music played some significant part in the story, and so, curious, I purchased an album of his compositions. That’s followed by “Beauty And The Beast.” I don’t care much for Disney, particularly the way that company declaws the tales it chooses to adapt, but this music, as presented here, is really good.

Wayne Alpern included a rendition of “Blue Moon” on Skeleton, which was released just a year ago. And on this new release, he presents the song again. The approach is similar to the previous version, including the presence of finger snaps, but the instruments are different, and so has a different feel. Anyway, this track is a total delight. It is a happy, peppy version, with innocence and excitement. It might explain a bit about my musical background that whenever I see “Do-Re-Mi” listed on a CD I automatically think it will be the Woody Guthrie song. It usually isn’t. Not in this case, anyway. Wayne Alpern offers an enjoyable, whimsical rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound Of Music (a musical I still have not seen). Then, to my delight, the musicians turn to Journey for a wonderful rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” What is it about this song? It just always works, and it seems that even people who dislike Journey (crazy people) love this one. This isn’t the first time Wayne Alpern has covered this song. It appeared on Standard Deviation, which was released on CD last April. But, as with “Blue Moon,” the instruments on this new album are different, and so this new version has a different vibe. Also, the previous version included some vocal work, which is absent here. And though this new version is quite a bit shorter, I think I prefer this one.

Downtown Abbey is a television series that has been recommended to me, but one that I haven’t yet had time to watch. On this album, Wayne Alpern delivers a pretty rendition of some of the music from that program. He then turns to baroque music with “Handel Allegro.” It is interesting that even though the music on this album comes from all sorts of different realms, it works quite well together. From “Handel Allegro,” the musicians go to Rodgers and Hart for a quirky, enjoyable (and quite brief) rendition of “Have You Met Miss Jones.” That’s followed by a beautiful and effective version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” for me another of the disc’s highlights. We then get “Nutcracker Suite,” or at least a couple of minutes of it, followed by a good cover of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”

On Skeleton, Wayne Alpern presented his own arrangement of “If I Only Had A Brain” from The Wizard Of Oz. On this new album he gives us a wonderful arrangement of “Over The Rainbow.” There is something fanciful about this interpretation, and we get the feeling that perhaps we can fly, that perhaps our wishes will come true. The tone changes a bit in the second half, becomes a bit more somber for a few moments, but over all there is an optimistic sense to this rendition. It has a rather sudden ending. Wayne Alpern takes us from The Wizard Of Oz to The Beatles, with a rendition of “Penny Lane.” There is a light aspect to this take on the song, like a butterfly in the sunshine with a whole field of flowers to choose from, and some interesting changes. That is followed by “Send In The Clowns,” one of the best Stephen Sondheim songs. This group of musicians delivers a really good rendition, one that is perhaps more cheerful than a lot of renditions, even including finger snaps at a few points. That is followed by a cheerful rendition of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” here titled “Surrey With The Fringe,” and then Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy,” here titled “Wonderful Guy.” The album concludes with a song more in the folk vein, “You’ve Got A Friend,” written by Carole King, and a hit for James Taylor. While the main theme remains central in this version, there is a sense of play, the instruments sort of dancing around that theme.

CD Track List

  1. Accustomed To Her Face
  2. All The Things You Are
  3. Bartok Chorale
  4. Beauty And The Beast
  5. Blue Moon
  6. Borodin On Broadway
  7. Do-Re-Mi
  8. Don’t Stop Believin’
  9. Downtown Abbey
  10. Handel Allegro
  11. Have You Met Miss Jones
  12. In A Sentimental Mood
  13. Nutcracker Suite
  14. Ornithology
  15. Over The Rainbow
  16. Penny Lane
  17. Send In The Clowns
  18. Surrey With The Fringe
  19. Wonderful Guy
  20. You’ve Got A Friend

Jukebox was released on January 15, 2021.

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