Joseph Bonner – Impressions Of Copenhagen – Theresa Records TR114 (1981)/Pure Pleasure Records (2021) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 36:56 ****1/2:
(Joseph Bonner – piano, chimes, conductor, arranger; Paul Warburton – double bass; J. Thomas Tilton – drums; with special guests: Beverly Woolery – cello; Carol Michalowski – 1st violin; Peggy Sullivan – 2nd violin; Carol Garrett – viola; Eddie Shu – trumpet; Gary Olson – trombone; Holly Hofmann – flute)
One of the many small jazz labels was Theresa Records in El Cerrito, California. Started in 1975 by Allen Pitman and B. Kazuko Ishida, the first release was by Bishop Norman Williams (The Bishop). Throughout the brief (around 15 years) history, this boutique label boasted albums from notable jazz luminaries like Ed Kelly, Pharoah Sanders, John Hicks, Bobby Hutcherson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Max Roach, Cedar Walton, Idris Muhammad and Nat Adderley. Another member of the Theresa Records family was pianist, composer and arranger Joseph Bonner. Before his career as a band leader, he played with legends like Roy Haynes, Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. Bonner’s playing style was influenced by the hard bop and modal forms of McCoy Tyner and Art Tatum. Like others, Bonner performed abroad, in particular in Copenhagen. He was moved by the artistic environment there and in 1981, recorded his sole project for Theresa, Impressions Of Copenhagen.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of this album. In addition to the basic piano trio (Paul Warburton/double bass and Thomas Tilton), Bonner has expanded the instrumentation to include trumpet (Eddie Shu), trombone (Gary Olson) and flute (Holly Hofmann). Additionally, his arrangements include a string section (Beverly Wooley/cello; Carol Michalowski/1st violin; Peggy Sullivan/2nd violin; and Carol Garrett/viola) that provide a sweeping context to the music. Side A opens with the title track, “Impressions Of Copenhagen/R.V.”. With elaborate intricacy, there is a festive ambiance as Bonner adds celeste. A string section combines with the piano on a unison lead. Brass accents are subtle. Bonner’s first solo is articulate, infused with meticulous phrasing, rhythm and modality. It builds with swirling notation and chords, displaying potency and a delicate touch. “Northstar” utilizes a series of melodic grooves in 3/4 time, scaling back the instrumentation. There is a rollicking up tempo swing aesthetic, and Paul Warburton contributes a sinewy run on double bass. Chimes work in rhythmic punctuation around Bonner’s exquisite play. On “I’ll Say No”, a breezy Latin vibe produces cinematic, exotic motifs with prominent flute and string counterpoint. On his solo, Bonner injects colorful, syncopated riffs that have bluesy undertones. A well-time slow fade closes the jam.
Bonner covers pianist Cal Massey (“Quiet Dawn”) in an old school trio format. At 10:40, it is easily the longest cut on the album.There is a flowing resonance to the verse with inflections of ethereal mood and soulful jazz. Numerous 4/4 transitions give the song a traditional jazz familiarity. Bonner’s infuses his sparkling play with vamps that feature textured moods and subtle modulations. When the trio settles down for an extended double bass solo, the pulse is always there. Each time they head into atmospheric dynamics, there is an invigorating up tempo return. This is commanded by the lockstep coherence of drummer J. Thomas Tilton. The full orchestration returns on “Why Am I Here”. The introduction includes trumpet, trombone and pizzicato strings. As with many of the arrangements on Impressions Of Copenhagen, there is an introspective section that morphs into bona fide bop . Bonner’s piano is exhilarating, and the trio’s energy is relentless during these shifts. The album concludes with a “bonus track”, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”. All of the sophisticated, late-night imagery of Strayhorn is captured with melancholy by the trio (with a hint of viola). It displays some grandiosity and translates into gentle swing.
Pure Pleasure Records should be commended for re-introducing a masterpiece from a small jazz label. The overall mix is pristine with balanced separation. There is minimal surface noise and no other audio imperfections on this pressing. The stunning cityscape cover is eye-catching.
Side A: Impressions Of Copenhagen/R.V; The Northstar; I’ll Say No This Time
Side B: Quiet Dawn; Why Am I Here?; Bonus Track: Lush Life
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