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Joanne Tatham “The Rings of Saturn”

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From the opening drum roll of the Walter Donaldson/Gus Khan chestnut “Love Me or Leave Me,” Max Haymer’s smart and splashy arrangement and Joanne Tatham’s confident vocals drew me in. Her voice is clear, her tone is true, and she swings effortlessly. It is immediately evident that the listener is in for top rate production values, which is what we have come to expect when producer Mark Winkler is at the helm.

Michael Frank’s “Summer in New York” follows. Kevin Winard on percussion, Dan Schnelle on drums and Lyman Medeiros on bass give it the right Latin feel, and Tatham knows when to spin out long, perfectly pitched tones, and when to utter a hushed word, displaying first rate phrasing choices. Larry Koonse on guitar makes an always welcome appearance on this one track.

Producer Winkler and Eli Bruggemann contribute an original, a sunny, briskly swinging number “Catch Me if You Can.” Haymer’s arrangement gives it the appropriate breezy, kinetic energy.

Phoebe Snow’s beloved “Piano Man” is deconstructed and re-harmonized to a nearly unrecognizable degree. It is a studious arrangement, and I found the added measures and chord voicings to be a bit distracting from the heart of the tune. It’s possible that I am too much in love with the original to appreciate this version. Venturing into the realm of reimagined classic pop is not for the timid, and while it isn’t my favorite track on the record, the approach is honest and skilled.

The title song follows, a rollicking, energetic, 6/4 interpretation of Bill Gable’s “The Rings of Saturn.” The superb ensemble shines on this track, and Tatham overdubs some effective, ethereal vocal harmonies. As Tatham is faded out, or rather launched into outer space, presumably in the general vicinity of Saturn, the band provides a sparkling send off. The overall effect is affirmative and joyful.

A surprising pop/rock cover follows, Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” Lyman Madeiros kicks it off with an expert bass line. Max Haymer’s horn parts are perfect, quoting a snippet from Miles Davis’s “Milestones” behind the title lyrics, and then stretching out in long, satisfying phrases that Tatham floats over with ease. The great Brian Swartz contributes the outstanding trumpet playing, and reed hero Bob Sheppard delivers an intensely heated solo. I have no preconceived relationship with the song and it works for me on every level. Kudos to Eli Brueggemann for this engaging arrangement. It is the standout track for me.

Jobim’s “If You Never Come to Me” is always a pleasure to hear, and if a vocalist does not have pristine pitch and control, this is not a song that should be attempted. Tatham negotiates the half step intervals and long tones with ease, and doubles with guitarist Marcel Camargo on a lovely vocalese section.

A sweet, heartfelt and direct version of Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” follows with the classic jazz ballad pulse beautifully played by a trio that clearly knows how to support a singer. Max Haymer and Lyman Madeiros provide the sensitive backing and Dan Schnelle proves once again that he is a drummer who can support on brushes with a thoughtful variety of colors.

The John Williams/Paul Williams theme from the film Cinderella Liberty “Nice To Be Around” is a highly sophisticated composition that displays Tatham’s skill as a vocal actress. Brian Swartz on trumpet and the Max Haymer arrangement mesh to deliver this charmingly world weary, angular piece. A very effective melodic theme is employed before the fade out.

A second Jobim tune “Jazz ‘n Samba” is next with Tatham, Brazilian guitarist Marcel Camargo and Kevin Winard on percussion. After all of the densely, well arranged material, it is refreshing to hear this trio laying down a straight forward authentic Brazilian vibe on a familiar classic. Tatham handles both the English and Portuguese lyrics with ease.

Another standard closes out the collection, Jimmy Van Huesen and Johnny Burke’s “It Could Happen to You.” Bob Sheppard sets the tone in the beautifully written intro, which modulates nicely down to Tatham’s key. Tatham’s vocal is at first hushed, intimate and conversational and builds with the arrangement. Max Haymer is given room to showcase his deft improvisational piano skills. The vocal/sax unison line with Bob Sheppard works very nicely. This is a fitting capper to a very satisfying record.

It is hard to know where to start when praising the quality of jazz recordings currently coming out of Los Angeles. All of the names associated with this fine CD appear on many beautifully realized projects. With “The Rings of Saturn” Joanne Tatham gives us a worthy follow up to her outstanding 2015 release “Out of My Dreams.” The West Coast people seem to be on a roll, and Joanne Tatham once again takes her rightful place among the very best of the very best.

Joanne Tatham, The Rings of Saturn

Joanne Tatham, vocals
Max Haymer, piano
Lyman Medeiros, bass
Dan Schnelle, drums
Marcel Camargo, guitar (5,7,10)
Larry Koonse, guitar (2)
Kevin Winard, percussion
Brian Swartz, trumpet
Bob Sheppard, sax

Arrangments by Max Haymer, Eli Brueggemann (6)
Marcel Camargo and Joanne Tatham (10)

Produced by Mark Winkler

Engineered and mixed by Talley Sherwood
Mastered by Ron Boustead

Recorded at Tritone Recording Studio