Thomas Wolfe may have been wrong when he wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, if flautist Lori Bell’s latest album Brooklyn Dreaming is any indication. Fronting a quartet featuring Tamir Hendelman on piano, Katie Thiroux on bass, and Matt Witek on drums, the West Coast transplant takes the opportunity of her ninth studio album to put together a nine-track musical return to her roots in Brooklyn and Manhattan (since six of the tunes reference New York City). Home is where the music comes from.
Although the album’s main focus is on original Bell compositions, she begins with a swinging version of the Charles Mingus classic “Nostalgia in Times Square”—note the appropriate emphasis on nostalgia to set the thematic tone. The other covers are a brilliant romp through Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” and Earle Hagen’s “Harlem Nocturne” which closes the set.
The latter cut provides a bit of personal nostalgia, recalling the rock and roll blues version of Sam “The Man” Taylor, a favorite of my own youth in Brooklyn, here treated with a Latin beat and some elegant solo work from Bell and Hendelman. It is tough competing with youthful memories of Alan Freed and the Brooklyn Paramount, but Bell and her quartet manage quite well.
The original material includes an inspired and almost mystical “Times Squared,” with a dynamic conversation between Bell and Hendelman and a smoky “Streets of New York.” The title song, with its dreamlike melody, reinforces the nostalgic theme, while “A Dog on Coney,” a real jazz romp, changes the mood entirely. “Lower Manhattan” and “3 Deuce Blues,” with a wispy opening leading inevitably to the blues in its title, round out the album.
The Lori Bell Quartet is an ensemble that demands attention. These are four top notch musicians who work as one. Bell has a vision, and Hendelman, Thiroux, and Witek buy into that vision with gusto. Their collaboration has produced an album that is both beautiful and intelligent. Brooklyn Dreaming is a winner.