Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the King Cole Trio
Hamiet Bluietts heartfelt tribute to the Nat King Cole Trioby far the most original Ive ever heard. Bluiett describes his inspiration: I wanted to focus on Nat as a pianist, not as a vocalist. He was a formidable pianist, anointed as they say in the church. He could get to your soul like no other. Hamiets joined here by contrabass giant Keter Betts blending warmly with Rodney Jones sweet acoustic guitaror with Ed Cherrys bluesy electric guitar. A perfect intro to Bluietts stunning, huge baritone sound. The breathtaking balladry on These Foolish Things and Sweet Lorraine is leavened by foot-patting swingers like Walkin My Baby Home or Gee Baby Aint I Good To You. This is one of my two or three best-sounding studio recordings. A Fi SuperDisc. (#04832)
I think this is my favorite of the new issues from Mapleshade. Obviously, it is an homage to the Nat King Cole Trio. Tasty it is too. ...The disc is a pure joy from beginning to end. Sax, bass and guitar, intimately recorded. Great sax sound; meaty, big and bouncy, as it were. Sure there is comfort in the old songs, but there is also fresh life infused by this talented group. Nicely done..
You've got to hand it to Hamiet Bluiett for undertaking a jazz tribute to Nat King Cole without even inviting a piano player. Nevertheless, rather remarkably, the venerable Bluiett ends up offering a heartfelt tribute to Cole's trio, with his robust baritone sax taking the place of the entire 88 keys of the piano. The CD is superb overall, but one cut of particular and immediate note is the version of Route 66, reinterpreted as a cross-country journey set as a jazz poem. (Dig how when they get out west, the percussionist comes in with Indian tom-tom beats, or how Hamiet's sax impersonates car horns to represent the freeway). It's remarkable: The kind of unexpected cut that can make a good jazz show into a truly great one, and one of the main reasons why Makin' Whoopee is a real keeper.
December 22, 1997
A skilled virtuoso who revels in outrageously flatulent tones, a balladeer of grace and poetic means whose uptempo flights court incoherence, an exacting formalist with a no less unruly musical temperament, a master of the cavernous tonalities of the baritone saxophone who routinely extracts piercing high-end notes more suited to the soprano saxophone, an avant-gardist with the heart of a traditionalist, Hamiet Bluiett has built a career fraught with contradiction.
Though Bluiett first drew serious attention working with Charles Mingus during the 1970s, he is probably best known for supplying the earthy tones that have rooted the World Saxophone Quartet over the past two decades. Recording prolifically with that trailblazing group, as well as maintaining a high profile as a solo artist, Bluiett has certainly earned his marks as the most acclaimed living baritone saxophonist in jazz. It's a notoriously demanding instrument that attracts few figures from any realm of jazz, traditionalist or free, let alone those who sip deeply from both streams.
Live at the Village Vanguard: Ballads and Blues [Soul Note] and Makin' Whoopee [Mapleshade] catch Bluiett wrapped in traditionalist garb, which in his case shouldn't be confused with formal wear. Both recordings feature well-crafted arrangements, intriguing selection of songs, and plenty of exceptional improvising. Yet both are also crammed with the leader's trademark eccentricities, stylistic quirks that trip you up and jostle your attention just when things are getting a mite too comfortable.
Makin' Whoopee, a tribute to Nat King Cole, may not rattle the rafters like the Vanguard recording, but it's no mellow make-out record, either. Flanked only by bassist Keeter Betts and guitarist Ed Cherry on most tracks, Bluiett gets to flaunt his mighty tone and walloping delivery. More apparent here than on Ballads and Blues, though, is Bluiett's assaultive sense of humor. It turns out our man is a card-carrying post-modernist, every ready to pop the illusionistic balloon of a romantic ballad with a bowel-clearing discharge of a note sure to break anybody's mood. In other words, Bluiett can forget about that invitation to join Natalie Cole on Unforgettable 2. Not that Bluiett's fooling around. It's just that virtuosity without levity is a no-win proposition for him. There's gorgeous saxophone playing throughout Whoopee, but it's all charged with a knowing wink of the eye that reminds you that a living, breathing, rambunctious personality is behind the horn, making singular interpretive decisions that may not fit or just plain dash your tried and true notions. Reverence has its place, but for Bluiett, what's important is saying your piece.
A dazzlingly vivid recording, Bluiett's bari sax has all its size and oomph, the guitars (and even the synth) are eerily present, and the bass well, this is what an unamplified bass sounds like. Plenty of air and detail, too.
Elsewhere in this issue, Steve Futterman reviews Makin' Whoopee, featuring the unlikely phenomenon of Hamiet Bluiett, flanked by guitar and bass, blowing out Nat King Cole classics on his husky baritone saxophone. This is the latest from those jazz-loving audiophiles at the Mapleshade label and ranks, sonically, among their very best, which should be taken as high praise indeed. As usual, engineer (and CEO) Pierre Sprey employs a pair of PZM mikes, attached to a fiberglass wedge, to cover the rhythm section and room ambiance, plus another PZM for Bluiett plugged, via a passive battery-powered mike preamp, into the two channels of an analog tape recorder. Some of Sprey's discs are as vividly real as any CD out there, but some also betray minor flaws: occasional distortion (he runs his tape very hot and sometimes a horn player or a singer gets too close to the mike) and, more commonly, a slight dryness (due perhaps to his close miking and the small, acoustically dampened room in which he records), Makin' Whoopee has no such problems, not to speak of anyway. You hear much more of the room ambiance than usual, especially when Bluiett backs away from the mike a few feet, and much more of his horn's roundedness. You hear more subtlety of breath. The guitar sounds strikingly present. And the bass well, this is what an unplugged bass sounds like.
Postive Feedback Online:
I think this is my favorite of the new issues from Mapleshade. Obviously, it is a homage to the Nat King Cole Trio. Tasty it is too. Except for the annoying "Route 66" (which, sadly, takes up over eight minutes of this recording) and one briefly misguided and inexplicable synthesizer foray, the disc is a pure joy from beginning to end. Sax, bass and guitar, intimately recorded. Great sax sound; meaty, big and bouncy, as it were. Sure there is comfort in the old songs, but there is also fresh life infused by this talented group. Nicely done.