Standring expresses his arrangements through the trio and the orchestra formats and each one is a big pay-off. With Standring on guitar are the great Randy Brecker on trumpet, legendary Peter Erskine on drums along with Harvey Mason and David Karasony, Chuck Berghofer, Darek Oleszkiewicz, and Geoff Gascoyne on bass, and for one tune only, Kathrin Shorr as guest vocalist. It is a dream team line-up performing with a magnificent string orchestra.
The album is not exactly a minimalist approach to reinterpreting the standards and classics but he does find a way to scale back without losing the richness and lushness of the tunes. Standring says he chose the tunes “because I like them but also because they could be arranged for a full orchestra or a trio setting.” He did not fail.
The album opens with How Insensitive by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Of course, any Jobim song is worthy of rapt attention and Standring does not disappoint. Peter Erskine’s effortless playing alongside Geoff Gascoyne’s bass and orchestra conducting is excellent. The trio with orchestra is lovely and Standring’s guitar work is so fine.
Then Cole Porter’s Night & Day keeps Erskine but sees Chuck Berghofer on bass. Standring owns the melody as the orchestra adds that effervescent quality to the trio. Vernon Duke’s Autumn in New York keeps that same trio intact with the orchestra to carry on the gorgeous movement of the melodic lines with such a smooth and savory rhythm section.
The tempo steps up a beat or two with Martino & Brighetti’s Estaté. Standring never assumes an overbearing presence with the guitar but, instead, makes beautiful space for the trio and orchestra. Dave Karasony sits in on drums with Gascoyne on bass. This is a beauty.
Then comes Wonderful World with Kathrin Shorr on vocals with Erskine and Berghofer in the rhythm section again. Standring supplements the vocal melody with, again, an understated elegance that casts a singular spotlight on the vocals and lyrics. Shorr is amazing with an Armstrong-like delivery. You’ve heard the song a thousand times but, trust me on this, you need to hear it once more from Standring and Shorr.
The same is true for 1947’s Green Dolphin Street by Bronislaw Kaper. Most famously done by Miles Davis and Bill Evans—with honorable mention to Return to Forever—this is a swinging arrangement and Standring is brilliant. The song always works but Standring’s arrangement is stellar and his guitar work is exquisite. I hit repeat several times for this one.
The second half of the album is full of sweet surprises. It begins with Burt Bacharach’s Alfie from the 1966 movie of the same name. Even Bacharach called this his favorite of all his compositions. Hearing it played by Standring with Harvey Mason (drums) and Gascoyne (bass) and the orchestra, the beautiful tune is treated with great fidelity with Standring adding his own sentiments. Just beautiful.
Rodgers & Hart’s Falling in Love with Love is from the 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse and has been covered by everyone from Clifford Brown to Cannonball Adderley to the Supremes. Yes, the Supremes. The Standring arrangement is wonderful and his guitar performance is touching.
This is followed by Standring’s only original on the album, Sunrise. It features Randy Brecker on trumpet. Brecker doesn’t make his first appearance until the 2:43 mark but nothing is lacking up to that point. Standring’s carrying of the melody is worth the price of admission but Brecker adds his voice to the tune and it is rich. The composition is marvelous and Darek Oleszkiewicz (bass) and Mason (drums) render great support.
Maxine is from Donald Fagen’s amazing solo album, the Nightfly.Oleszkiewicz (bass) and Mason (drums) remain in the trio and Standring carries the melody. Mel Torme once told an MTV audience that the music of Donald Fagen will someday be considered Jazz standards and Standring has hastened the arrival of that day.
The album closes with Victor Young’s My Foolish heart. Such as fine way to close out such an excellent album. Only Standring and bassist Gascoyne are with the orchestra and this works well. The song has not been overdone since its 1949 release and it retains a freshness despite well-known covers from Bing Crosby, Roberta Flack, and Susanna McCorkle. This instrumental version carries all the beauty and slight melancholy in a sweet way.
Wonderful World propels Chris Standring’s reputation—indeed, fame—as masterful guitar artist and savvy arranger. Standring’s ability to pare down standards and classics, while never losing the lush quality of the orchestra, is brilliant. Whether it is his composing, his arranging, or his performing, Chris Standring is deserving of careful attention.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl