As composer arranger Drew Paralic puts it, although he began studying the piano over 25 years ago, he soon realized that he had started too late to play at the same level as the jazz pianists he most admired—Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans—so perhaps he’d be better off sticking to the composing and leaving the playing to others. The latest result of this realization is his self-released album of what appear to be new arrangements of at least some of his previously recorded original compositions, Wintertime Tunes of Drew Paralic, featuring an ensemble of some very fine musical talent, sans Paralic.
The CD includes four tracks of straight-ahead instrumental jazz with a blues vibe, bookended by a jaunty Christmas vocal and a lyrically uninspired love song. The four instrumentals are the heart of the album. There is one solo piano piece, “Steps,” played by James Newman. It is a melodic tour de force that would likely have appealed to any of the Paralic piano heroes.
The other three instrumentals are in the hands of a quartet. Mike McGinnis handles tenor sax and clarinet. Elias Bailey is on upright bass and Vinnie Sperrazza is on drums. David Pearl plays piano on two, and Bennett Paster takes over on one track, “Down in Soho,” a mellow bluesy tune that showcases some sweet interaction between Bailey and Sperrazza. “Finally 2001” is a swinging blues number that has some creative work on the clarinet from McGinnis. He and Pearl work magic together here and on the song “(On the Occasion) of Wet Snow.”
While Laura Kenyon, who does the vocals on “My Wintertime Sky” and “How Bill’s Heart Sings,” is a gifted songstress, I was less impressed with the songs themselves. “My Wintertime Sky” is a pleasant bauble to hang on someone’s Christmas tree; the lyrics from John Raymond Pollard are a bit too cute for my taste. “How Bill’s Heart Sings” is a little disappointing, more than likely because any song with Bill in the title has to compete in my head with Wodehouse and Kern. That’s probably not fair to Paralic and lyricist Thomas Raniszewski, but it is what it is.
You have to admire an artist willing to put aside his own ego to recognize what he considers his own inadequacies. I haven’t heard Paralic play so I wouldn’t know if he means it or he’s just being coy. I do know that there aren’t many jazz pianists who can measure up to the mark he feels he fell short of. That said, the talent he has gathered together for this album makes his music sparkle. Check his website and see for yourself.