Mark Winkler: The Company I Keep

| August 10, 2017

Mark Winkler

The Company I Keep

(Café Pacific Records)

July 31, 2017

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

That prolific west coast swinger Mark Winkler continues his cool musical journey and to own his moniker as the “hippest of hip.” On the heels of losing his partner, Richard, he turned to music to sustain himself—with the help of some talented friends. The result is his latest album, The Company I Keep. And it’s a hands-down winner that’s been making waves in all the right circles. After all, aside from originals, the album contains songs written by an eclectic group from the Gershwins to Mark Murphy to Prince. In lesser hands, this might prove risky. With Winkler, it fuels what is already an established fact: he is a mighty talent. There’s more. The disc also contains vocal collaborations with Cheryl Bentyne (Manhattan Transfer), Sara Gazarek, Claire Martin, Jackie Ryan, and Steve Tyrell.

Always diverse and sharp, this recording artist and lyricist, who is widely respected as one of today’s most intelligent and tasteful jazz cats, swings with a lot of soul on this offering. By gathering together this exceptional group of west coast jazz greats and exceptional musicians, he simply validates what everyone already knows: the man breathes life into every swinging note he sings and continues to do brilliant work.

Filled with one highlight after another, the album is a loving project with all the material chosen for its musical virtues as well as an emotional attachment that is highly personal to him. This is exemplified on two songs in particular: “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (the Gershwins) and “Here’s to Life” (Butler/Molinary). Beautifully sung, they recall Winkler’s love and loss in life. The late Mark Murphy’s “Stolen Moments” joins respected British jazz singer Claire Martin with Winkler on a great cut that includes a mini-vocalese riff he wrote in tribute to his jazz idol, making for one of the album’s finest cuts. “Rainproof,” with rising jazz singer Sara Gazanek, is a gentle swinger well sung with Josh Nelson’s yearning arrangement accompanying at the piano. “But It Still Ain’t So” is a late-night saloon ditty (penned by Winkler with Louis Durra) that is a fun foray with Steve Tyrell that vaguely recalls the Rat Pack days. “Strollin’” (Prince) is the real surprise. Sung with pop/jazz rhythm in a duet with Cheryl Bentyne, it’s a terrific cut that shows how fearless Winkler can be. “Lucky to Be Me” (Bernstein/Comden & Green) swings in a breezy arrangement with every subtlety filled with meaning.

Each of the 11 tracks on this classy CD couldn’t be fresher. From laid back moody swing to anything upbeat, Winkler never fails to bring something new and refreshing to the music. The large band ensemble of musicians couldn’t be better.

Sharing the spotlight with these sublime vocalists and skilled musicians, he is at home with the material—whether it be ballads, driving jazz, Latin beat, or classic standards. He serves the songs so well in a smoky baritone with a mild timbre that just contributes to making him one of today’s coolest and most relevant artists working

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Category: Los Angeles, Los Angeles Music Reviews, Music, Music Reviews, Regional

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