Alex Leonard

Down in the Depths - Interpretations of Cole Porter

Al Bal Records 0001-2

Alex Leonard, Piano, vocal; Al Gafa, guitar; Paul Rostock, acoustic bass; Vito Lesczak, drums; Ed Jackson, congas, bongos; Don Hahn, trumpet, flügelhorn; Ralph Lalama, tenor sax, flute; Gary Smulyn, baritone sax; John Mosca, Jimmy Knepper, trombone

Now and again I hear Cole Porter's music accused of a certain elitism, considering how more often than not it graced musicals and films concerning the foibles and forays of the moneyed classes of the 1920s, 1930s, etc. And there's a quote in the liner to this very fine CD from the Charles Schwartz 1979 bio of Porter which furthers the impression. All that cuts no ice with me, any more than those claiming Rudyard Kipling was a dyed-in-the-wool 19th-century imperialist: as did Kipling's portraits of the Indian Brits of his day, the well-off class prove in Porter musicals to be just as clueless as the rest of us, and often a sight more deluded too. Rightfully, it is Porter's mischievous wit which is most central to this collection, masterminded by Mr. Leonard, a New Yorker (I'm sold already) with a fine band which includes the masterful saxophonist Ralph Lalama, (known to me from his many years with the always essential Bill Kirchner Nonet,) and trombonist Jimmy Knepper. With a very similar wit, Leonard has taken some Porter classics and some surprises and rearranged rhythm signatures, swapped tempos, rescored for interesting subgroups within his band, and draped his workmanlike, friendly tenor voice over the top.

Be prepared to have your eyebrows propped up: "Begin the Beguine" is taken at a leisurely pace to let the melody exhale; suddenly one hears a distant voicing of Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live." Was that intentional? Lalama's finest moment is a relaxed statement worthy of Dexter Gordon during "I Concentrate On You," while Al Gafa's fine club guitar setting give the saudade-flavored "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "Allez-Vous En" a nice tart flavor. Some fine Leonard scatting on the former as well. The notable "Miss Otis Regrets," reportedly a Cary Grant favorite, steals a march on "Strange Fruit" via the back door, to a flippant reading from Leonard. Not as insensitive as it might sound, not at all. As for the sprightly, nudge-nudge take here of "Love for Sale," well, the Miles Davis Sextet from the KIND OF BLUE period owns this song, full-stop. But Miles' and fellow cohorts' relentlessly sunny reading of the melody has nothing to do with the snappy lyrics, well-emoted by Leonard. Depends on how important you think the composer's original intention was! And finally, a merengue take of "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor" backwashes wittily on the lyrics, as if to say, "Maybe I'm not so bad off after all." Nice work.

by Ken Egbert

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