Tony Quarrington,
One Bright Morning
(Cordova Bay, 1999)

I've just spent a few days listening to many of the most critically acclaimed jazz CDs of 2002. While they can be admired, I wish the artists would stop taking themselves so seriously. Jazz isn't as popular as it once was partly because too much of what is touted by critics sounds like difficult classical chamber music, sometimes complete with atonality, obscurely complex rhythms and ugly tonal colors. Critics are pushing creative edginess while fans just want what feels good. (I, of course, have exactly the right balance.)

What's this got to do with guitarist Tony Quarrington? Well, it means he and many other mainstream jazz musicians who stick with more traditional sounds are unlikely to get as much attention as they deserve. They're just trying to make music that sounds good. How unambitious is that? To make matters worse, Quarrington and his mates are enjoying themselves. More points off.

One Bright Morning gets off to a sunny, upbeat start with the title tune, a fine Quarrington original that wouldn't have been out of place for bop groups led by Horace Silver or Art Blakey. It features a septet ensemble and some of the album's best solo work -- Quarrington is followed by Kirk McDonald (tenor), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet) and Bernie Senensky (piano). The same septet appears on two additional tracks. One is "Savannah/For South Africa," another tasty original, this time with a swaying Latin feel. Most other tracks drop the brass to get down to a quintet that switches to Brian Dickinson (piano) and Shawn Nykwist (sax).

The Monk tune "'Round Midnight," played by the quintet as a fast samba, didn't work for me. The solo work is OK, but the arrangement sounds perfunctory and the tune just isn't a samba. "Hi Lilly Hi Low," in a guitar/piano duet, works better. As the liner notes point out however, it was a favorite of pianist Bill Evans. Stiff competition, and Evans played it just a shade slower and dreamier without losing the lilt.

The other slow track is a long, gentle treatment of another solid Quarrington original, "Princesse en Promenade." Nykwist states the melody and solos effectively on soprano sax. The album concludes with a good-humored, mid-tempo quintet version of "You Stepped Out of a Drink," an original based on the chord changes for "You Stepped Out of a Dream."

If you agree with a lot of critics that edgy is in, look elsewhere. If you want well played, entertaining jazz, One Bright Morning won't disappoint.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 1 March 2003

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