Adrian Cunningham – Ain’t That Right! – The Music Of Neal Hefti – Arbors Jazz ARCD19443 62:10 (Distr. by Allegro) ***1/2:
(Adrian Cunningham – tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Wycliffe Gordon – trombone tracks1/5/8/10; Dan Nimmer – piano; Corcoran Holt – bass; Chuck Redd – drums)
Adrian Cunningham, the multi-talented reed-player from Australia who currently is New York-based, confronts a dilemma that was first described by writer Terry Martin in his essay for The Oxford Companion To Jazz Edited By Bill Kirchner entitled Jazz In Canada And Australia: “the too far Australians have faced a crises of identity of a different, more existential nature, one born of cultural displacement and isolation”. Overcoming these drawbacks, Cunningham shows that he is more than capable of a breakthrough in his current release Ain’t That Right! – The Music of Neal Hefti.
As one of the foremost composers/arrangers of jazz and popular music, Cunningham’s choice of using the material of Neal Hefti was far-sighted as it has a structure that works exceeding well for jazz improvisation. However in what might have been perceived as providing some added lustre to the session, with the addition of trombonist Wycliffe Gordon on four tracks may have been in fact, ill advised. While Gordon’s pedigree is unquestioned, his contribution to the four tracks “The Odd Couple”, “Shanghaied”, “Li’l Darling” and “Zankie” is debatable. Gordon seems to have forgotten the words restraint and straight-ahead playing, as he uses the trombone to squeeze out some musical sound effects. Growls, swoops, tremolos, gut-bucket squawks seem to be the order of the day for Gordon, which detract from Cunningham’s efforts to create a harmonic structure.
Left to his own devices, Cunningham is more than capable of carrying the load regardless of the chosen instrument. On clarinet, he has a full round tone and tends to favour the lower and middle registers although he can run through the full range of keys and he does so with ease on “ Scoot” and “It’s Awfully Nice To Be With You”. On the latter tune, pianist Dan Nimmer pitches in with great support and some Red Garland like chording. As for Cunningham’s facility on flute, he shows his versatility on two compositions: namely “Ain’t That Right” which is done in a soul jazz frame, and the Latin tempo offering “Suspicion”.
In 1958, when Count Basie recorded the album Basie Plays Hefti, Hefti’s composition “Cute” was a swinging feature for the brush work of drummer Sonny Payne as much as for flutist Frank Wess. Cunningham’s take on the tune is different on several fronts. Firstly, he plays tenor sax instead of flute, drummer Chuck Redd uses sticks instead of brushes, and the tempo is at a slightly slower pace that the Basie version. That is not to suggest that the interpretation does not work, because it does. Redd is a tasty drummer, and Cunningham demonstrates his fluency on tenor with a swinging mellow-tone.
While the jazz arranger/composer Neal Hefti may have been better represented by the previously mentioned Basie/Hefti album, and perhaps the essential The Atomic Mr. Basie, Adrian Cunningham’s attachment to the more popular based Neal Hefti works remarkable well for both parties.
TrackList: The Odd Couple; Scoot; Girl Talk; Barefoot In The Park; Shanghaied; It’s Awfully Nice To Be With You; Ain’t That Right; Li’l Darlin’; How To Murder Your Wife; Zankie; Suspicion; I’ve Got Love; Cute