This album is consciously a showcase for guitarist Skip Heller’s band rather than himself as a soloist. That band includes Robert Drasnin on reeds, Joe Doria on organ and John Wicks on percussion. Drasnin’s clarinet is featured to especially good effect on the opening “Yodel,” and Doria’s lines are fresh throughout.
The songs are an interesting mix. “Never Can Say Goodbye” gets a disappointingly muzak treatment, but “Monk’s Mood” is played in melodious form and is a solo showcase for Heller. And everyone who records “Powerhouse,” better known as the conveyor belt music from the Warner Brothers cartoons, goes to heaven. Known fact. Stan Ridgeway lays down a nice vocal on “The Man In Me,” which serves mainly to remind that it’s long past time I had his Mosquitos album replaced on CD.
In an interview with Goldmine last year, included with the press materials, Heller says he sees “…jazz as a ‘how,’ not a ‘what’.” Seems like a good state of mind to me. How many dusty, dictionary definitions of what jazz “is” can we take (I’m looking at you, Ken Burns)? I’ve long thought if there is one solid thing about it, it is that it is fluid.
As a guitarist, Heller’s jazzy-cool style sometimes reminds me of Vinnie Zummo, a former player with Joe Jackson, and now solo artist and session musician. Like Zummo, Heller is extremely able, but his taste for sonic wallpaper is sometimes his undoing. Heller is a smart, talented guy with a good ear for his fellow artists, but maybe not quite enough to say.
Pleasant, but unremarkable.