West Coast Cool is a jazz album from the duo of Cheryl Bentyne, a member of the acclaimed Manhattan Transfer, and vocalist/lyricist Mark Winkler, and was released in September, 2013. As Winkler explains in a GLT Jazz Next interview, the CD is basically an abridged version of the successful live show celebrating the cool vibe associated with West Coast musicians like Chet Baker, June Christy, Bobby Troup, and a raft of other jazz giants. He and Bentyne have been doing for the show for the past few years.
Its 14 tracks include 18 songs, mostly jazz standards, but with a few Winkler originals thrown in for good measure. They sing duets and they sing individually, but whether alone or together, they sing beautifully. They embody the West Coast sound—cool to the point of frigid. The title song, a bluesy take on the Neal Hefti instrumental “Lil’ Darlin,” with new lyrics by Winkler, is a kind of love letter to the cool sound and the musicians who made it famous.
They begin with a masterful mash-up of the Paul Desmond classic “Take 5” with lyrics by Iola Brubeck and “Drinks on the Patio,” a composition based on a passage in a Desmond solo by their pianist and sometime arranger Rick Eames with lyrics by Winkler. It is an auspicious opening. Other medleys include “Talk of the Town” paired with “Girl Talk” and a swinging combination of “Route 66,” “Alright, Okay You Win,” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Their performances are polished jazz jewels. Their work on some of the less well-known, at least to popular audiences, vocal pieces, songs like Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues,” Joe Greene’s soulful “All About Ronnie,” or Bobby Troup’s “Lemon Twist” and “Hungry Man,” is likely to make one wonder why these tunes aren’t better known.
Bentyne, Winkler, and cool jazz make for a magical combination. The warmth of their feeling for the cool may be paradoxical, but their passion for the music is clear from their performance. It is a passion that is catchy.