Mark Heard It First

Unlikely Valentine

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The title cut opens this impressive outing by one of the idiom’s most respected recording engineers, Ron Boustead, who demonstrates why he is the “go to guy” for mastering the projects of so many of today’s most discerning vocal artists. He understands this music from the inside out. He is no neophyte to performing, either – this is his fourth record as a leader. Boustead wastes no time tucking into this opening piece
co-written with Bill Cunliffe, instantly displaying his natural, unforced voice, and sure-footed approach to handling up-tempo lyrics.

Leiber and Stoller’s “Love Potion #9” is given a rollicking 6/4 meter and some great horn arrangements and soloing by Bill Cunliffe, elevating it from an effective bit of pop fluff to a grittier, more substantial and satisfying piece of music.

Coffee seems to be a frequent subject in jazz. Carol Bach-y-Rita’s “Morning Coffee” by Bill Cantos was a favored cut from her recent project. We have “Java Jive,” “Black Coffee,” and “The Coffee Song.” Now we have a solid ballad written by Ken Kresge and arranged by Mitch Forman, entitled simply “Coffee.” Boustead handles his own lyric with an easy, musical and honest approach, pleasantly nasal, with self-assured long tones and a light vibrato that sneaks in at the ends of phrases.

Cantos and Boustead penned “I Won’t Scat” which kicks off with a vamp appropriately reminiscent of a trio’s stock intro during a live performance of “On Green Dolphin Street.” The song is a vocal jazz insider piece, with nods to masters like Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks and Anita O’Day, and references that will be familiar to any singer who has ever seriously tackled the idiom. In spite of his protestations that he eschews scatting, one gets the impression that Boustead would be up to the task. The song’s smart conspiratorial sentiment is best expressed in the lyric “when it’s time to blow through the changes, that’s what the band is for.”

A good contrast is “Til Now,” a guitar centric, lilting Brazilian original by Pat Kelley, who plays on the cut, along with a nice surprise, a guest vocal by Fabiana Passoni. Her clear, expressive voice pairs beautifully with Boustead’s, who also handles the Portuguese lyrics with ease.

One of only three recognizable Great American Songbook standards on the project, “Autumn Leaves,” is next, with a new arrangement by Mitch Forman with prerequisite added measures and solid, well arranged horn parts giving it a new feeling. Boustead’s variations and added lyrics are very well realized. It is nice to hear John Leftwich’s bass driving the energy, as it chugs along underneath the dense arrangement in the more overtly straight ahead sections.

Once again showing that Boustead and his co-producer Mitch Forman know how to put together a song list, the sweet, simple waltz “Love’s Carousel” follows, giving Boustead a chance to tell a story in an intimate way, greatly enhanced by the superb flugelhorn soloing of Ron Stout, and a beautiful bit of understated accordion playing by Forman. This is the track I find myself going back to again and again.

Having given a nod to Jon Hendricks in “I Won’t Scat,” Boustead shows us that maybe he should scat, as he nimbly handles the Hendricks vocalese lyric to Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty.”

“I Love My Wife,” the Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart musical debuted on Broadway in 1977. Here Boustead gives us a ¾ reading of the title song. It is a nice choice for the song list, with its major key, uplifting opening phrase that echoes throughout, and legit show tune construction. Broadway material and jazz have always had a happy alliance, and at the end of this performance, I was left with one thought – I believe that Ron Boustead does, indeed, love his wife.

It is always impressive when a vocalist avoids the “big finish” cliché on a project and instead chooses introspection. Bob Dorough’s angular anthem, “Love Came on Stealthy Fingers” closes this satisfying project. Boustead gives it an honest, no frills reading, with solos by masters John Leftwich on bass and Bob Sheppard on flute. Jake Reed on drums adds the right amount of support and shimmer on the brushes.

It is no surprise that a recording engineer of Ron Boustead’s earned respect has surrounded himself with an A team of musicians, producers and support. This is no vanity project. Boustead knows what he is doing, both at the controls and in the recording booth. The song list is put together with skill, making for an exceptional listening experience overall. Each track has integrity, honesty, and is authentically successful. Those of us in the biz understand that Ron Boustead knows how to get the most out of another singer’s recordings. With the release of “Unlikely Valentine” he reminds us that he also knows how to get inside a song and deliver an exceptional performance on his own terms.

Especially revealing is the dedication on the disc: “To Mark Murphy, thanks for the inspiration, my dear mentor and friend. May you rest in peace.”

I believe Mark would approve of “Unlikely Valentine.” Enough said.

Unlikely Valentine

Ron Boustead, vocals
Bill Cunliffe, piano, Rhodes, Hammond B3
Mitchell Forman, piano, Rhodes, Hammond B3 and accordion
John Leftwich, bass
Jake Reed, drums
Pat Kelley, acoustic and electric guitar
Bob Sheppard, saxes, flute
Bob McChesney, trombone
Ron Stout, flugelhorn
Fabiana Passoni, guest vocal

Produced by Bill Cunliffe and Mitchell Forman
Project Consultant, Barbara Brighton
Recorded by Talley Sherwood, Tri Tone Recording
Mixed by Steve Shepherd, Dave Rideau, Ron Boustead, Talley Sherwood.

Mastered by Ron Boustead