Following up on his two successful Christmas albums, Vintage Christmas and last year’s EP Vintage Christmas Wonderland, pianist David Ian and a few of his friends are back with an elegant present to celebrate another holiday. This time it is a collection of standard ballads played with his signature finesse: Valentine’s Day. Working with most of the familiar crew from the last Christmas album, plus an addition or two, Ian has put together a set that intersperses mellow instrumental numbers with stylish vocal performances from five different singers, each a jewel. Valentine’s Day, like its namesake, is for lovers. Of course, given the repertoire, we’re talking about old school lovers.
The emphasis here is on sentiment. Ian opens with the venerable “Autumn Leaves,” not a song particularly associated with the holiday, but certainly emotionally appropriate, especially given the lyrical reading by Ian, Jon Estes on upright bass, and drummer Josh Hunt. The other instrumentals on the disc include “Stella by Starlight,” the Snow White classic “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Night and Day,” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” each a sentimental classic. “Emily,” the Mercer/Mandel opus from the Julie Andrews film The Americanization of Emily, is probably the only tune on the album that might be a little unfamiliar, but even it is not quite what anyone would call obscure.
The vocals begin with Kevin Max’s fine version of, what else, “My Funny Valentine.” Acacia delivers a sultry take on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” and Andre Miguel Mayo does “Young and Foolish.” Talitha Walters-Wulfing is featured on “Summertime.” The album concludes with what they call a bonus track that has gospel singer Russ Taff doing “Sweet By and By.” Ian’s arrangements give the singers ample opportunity for the kind of nuanced interpretation that makes for great jazz vocals. And if you’re wondering what it has to do with Valentine’s Day, it’s a bonus, so what’s to complain.
There are some jazz discs that are difficult to listen to. They make a lot of demands on the audience. Not David Ian’s Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is an album that you can listen to and enjoy right from the start. As with much great music, the more you listen, the more you hear. And just think, there’s St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, the fourth of July, and even Arbor Day still waiting.