Review by Brad Walseth
Husband and wife team, Wayne Escoffery and Carolyn Leonhart, are both accomplished artists in their own rights. Leonhart is the daughter of bassist Jay Leonhart and singer wife Donna, and has gained some of her rising reputation through gigging, winning vocal competitions, recording two prior albums and backing jazz-rock group Steely Dan for over a decade. Meanwhile, Escoffery is an up-and-coming saxman who has appeared with numerous top ensembles, including the Mingus Big band for one, and whose 2007 album, Toru Dodo.
Combining Leonhart’s lushly flowing vocals with Escoffrey’s fiery tenor and soprano saxes must have been an appealing, yet daunting idea to the couple, but the upshot is an enchanting one. Mixing covers by Benny Goodman (the title track), Kenny Barron (“Never Too Soon,” with lyrics by Carolyn), Hank Jones (“Angel Face”), Benny Carter (“Key Largo”) and Lee Morgan (“Desert Moonlight”) with several originals, the duo and their backing band mates have produced a refreshing take on the vocal jazz album. Not “pretty” in an expected sense, there is sweetness here, but it never delves into the saccharine. A bit of an edge, a toughness, enhances the overall sound and takes it into more of a post-bop realm, with the players stretching the role of how to back a singer and Carolyn stretching her skills as singer to support the musicians with wordless vocalese.
The band dynamics throughout are superb and Wayne of course adds some vibrant solos. Dodo too is a pianist to be watched for, with an original style that is still steeped in tradition. The arrangements by Escoffrey are quite interesting, and in a fair world, the stellar “Key Largo” would be a hit. The vigorous title track and completely instrumental ballad “Angel Face” are also done with considerable skill and panache, while Lee Morgan’s “Desert Moonlight” is another highlight. Originals like “Nothing Left to Say” and the burning “Not Without You,” also hold up well. By utilizing both talents, the couple have come up with a recipe for success with this unique outing.