RON KEARNS AND FRIENDS "Introspective" Foxhaven JANINE GILBERT-CARTER "A Song for You" Jazz Karma

Friday, July 20, 2007

RON KEARNS AND FRIENDS"Introspective"FoxhavenJANINE GILBERT-CARTER"A Song for You"Jazz Karma

SAXOPHONIST RON KEARNS had the pleasure of collaborating with singer, educator and tireless jazz booster Ronnie Wells in numerous settings over the years. So after her death in March, he stopped work on a new recording to assemble "Introspective," a compilation of tracks he and Wells produced.

All told, there are eight performances gathered from four recordings released by Kearns, and though Wells herself is absent from the lineup, in a way that's only fitting. After all, as the co-founder of the East Coast Jazz Festival, Wells was always more interested in showcasing jazz talent, legends and newcomers alike, than standing center stage.

In addition to Kearns, who's in fine, switch-hitting form on alto and soprano saxes, the musicians assembled for these sessions will be familiar to many area jazz fans. Among them are pianists Larry Brown and Eric Byrd, trumpeter Kenny Reed, bassist James King, trombonists John Jensen and Paul Olenick, vibist Tim Collins, and drummers Allison Miller and Mike Smith.

A sinuous Kearns-devised arrangement of "Wade in the Water" opens the album on a soulful note, but the remaining tracks were composed either by the session leader or Reed. Though the tone is often reflective, as the album's title suggests, there's no shortage of tuneful melodies, such as Reed's "Saturday Renaissance," or inviting swing, modal and blues excursions.

Kearns produced Janine Gilbert-Carter's "A Song for You," recorded live at the 15th annual East Coast Jazz Festival. Ably abetted by Steve Abshire's supple guitar underpinning, Paul Carr's robust tenor and soprano saxophones and a solid rhythm section anchored by pianist Chris Grasso, Gilbert-Carter focuses on such romantic standards as the majestic Dinah Washington chestnut "What a Difference a Day Made," a swinging "All of Me" and "Here's to Life," a serene affirmation closely associated with Washington jazz legend Shirley Horn. But Gilbert-Carter also dips into such modern texts as Elton John and Bernie Taupin's title track and shows her bluesy side on the sly "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," closing with "At Last," a song that demands the full, exhausting emotional commitment evident in Gilbert-Carter's nearly seven-minute testimonial.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at the Tribute to Ronnie Wells at Strathmore.

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