It’s been almost 50 years since legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane collaborated with the then unheralded vocalist Johnny Hartman to create what many critics have called a classic, a masterpiece duets album comprised of six romantic standards composed by the likes of Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Billy Strayhorn, and Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart. An ardent admirer of the recording and equally purposed with putting the spotlight on an underappreciated vocalist who happens to be his younger brother, Grammy winning saxman Kirk Whalum (www.kirkwhalum.com) has re-recorded the entire album offering his modern day take on the time-tested collection that will be released appropriately on Valentine’s Day as “Romance Language.” We recently sent you the advance CD, which was produced and arranged by Whalum and John Stoddart.
For years, Whalum has mused recreating the Coltrane/Hartman record in its entirety with Kevin Whalum, thus its completion is a dream realized. Since the original recording was a modest thirty minutes in length, four contemporary R&B romancers were recorded to complete the collection, candlelight ballads that seamlessly fit the album’s motif. Favoring a live sound with virtually no overdubs, the tracks were laid by Whalum’s touring band comprised of Stoddart (piano, keyboards, organ), Marcus Finnie (drums), Braylon Lacy (bass), Kevin Turner (electric guitar), Michael “Nomad” Ripoll (acoustic guitar), and Ralph Lofton (organ) along with robust accompaniment courtesy of George Tidwell (flugelhorn, trumpet) and percussionists Bashiri Johnson and Javier Solis.
Opening “Romance Language” with an unabashedly romantic trip back in time, Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” is a mood-setter on which Kirk’s soulful sax soloing embraces and accentuates the notes emoted by Kevin’s velvety voice. Playing both tenor sax as well as flute on Cahn’s pledge of enduring love, “Dedicated To You,” Whalum’s commanding presence is heartfelt and intimate, embracing while avoiding overwrought emotion. “My One And Only Love” is a sweet serenade exquisitely rendered with the added ambience of acoustic guitar flourishes sprinkled like a dusting of glitter. Kevin takes center stage on “Lush Life” and delivers an arresting showstopper. Throughout the entire album, his debonair tone and sophisticated phrasing adds elegance and class. The musicians stretch out on “You Are Too Beautiful,” taking their time - 8:32 to be exact - to allow the gorgeous melody to gently permeate a seductive mid-tempo R&B groove. Flamenco-like acoustic guitar riffing and Whalum’s sultry soprano sax color “Autumn Serenade” with amour, which concludes the Coltrane/Hartman portion of the album. On “Almost Doesn’t Count,” it is Kirk and Kevin’s 83-year-old uncle, Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum, who steals the spotlight with his warm, sandpapery lead vocals. The first of three instrumentals, “I Wish I Wasn’t” was penned by hit-makers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. In the astute hands of Whalum, his lyrical sax gracefully romances eloquently, replacing lyrics about a pained heart. With a flute intro that pays tribute to Minnie Riperton’s classic “Loving You,” “I Wanna Know” assumes a breezy, reggae-light cadence. Closing with a version of Eric Benet’s “Spend My Life With You,” Whalum loosens his grip on the reins to unleash the fire and intensity of his unadulterated passion.
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