With music, sometimes it’s the songwriting that makes a difference. Other times, the voices and instruments and how they execute are key. But then there’s that time when a reworking of what’s written is the focal point. That’s where vocalist Sylvia Brooks comes in, hiring several Los Angeles-based arrangers for her third album, The Arrangement (2017).
The lineup varies from song to song. Collectively, the players are: Otmaro Ruiz, piano; Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu, bass; Aaron Serfaty, drums and percussion; Kim Richmond, alto sax; Bob Sheppard, tenor sax; Francisco Torres, trombone; Juliane Gralle, bass trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Ron Stout, flugelhorn; Will Brahm, guitar; Quinn Johnson, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Tom Brechtlein, drums; Michael Stever, trumpet; Jeff Driskill, sax; Jeff Colella, piano; Kendall Kay, drums; Chris Colangelo, bass; Bruce Babad, flutes; Larry Koonse, guitar; Christian Jacob, piano and Fender Rhodes; Will Brahm, guitar; David Hughes, bass; Jamey Tate, drums.
Brooks brings warmth and a bit of joy to Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” Rather than wallow in the misery of being mistreated by a loved one, Brooks sings it with vigor, as a wronged person turning the situation into a positive, by taking charge. Her scat enhances Driskell’s tenor solo. The horn section gives a swing feel to the song.
Major kudos to Jacob for the arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby.” His approach adds an elegance seldom heard in a cover of this Beatles classic. The flutes and Rhodes provide a haunting quality. Babad’s tenor solo injects a romantic touch. And Brooks’ voice is charming throughout.
I’m not sure what it is about “Besame Mucho” that so many jazz artists interpret it. This is easily one of my favorite renditions. Brooks takes it slow with this Otmaro Ruiz arrangement. The congas give it a Latin feel, appropriate considering the songs origins. The soft horns add a symphonic element.
Other notable tracks include “Body and Soul,” “Maybe I’m a Fool” and “The Tender Trap.”
This project came together with Brooks picking Ruiz, Colella, Jacob and Johnson. She gave them two instructions. First, they must use a combination of brass and reed instruments. Second, they could choose the musicians they felt would best serve the direction of the music. The combination is a perfect match as the arrangements are fresh and engaging, the musicians are rock solid, and Brooks’ soothing, charming voice completes the package.
Brooks is a native of Miami. Her father, pianist/arranger Don Ippolito, was a first-call talent who performed with several jazz heavyweights, among them Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie. Brooks’ mother, Johanna Dordick, was a conservatory-trained opera singer. Though influenced by her parents in music, Brooks first took the stage as an actor. After moving to Los Angeles, Brooks returned to her jazz roots.