The Music’s On Me – Wendy Kirkland (2019)

Wendy Kirkland – piano and voice

Pat Sprakes – guitar

Paul Jefferies – bass guitar and double bass

Steve Wyndham – drums

Roger Beaujolais – vibraphone

Tommaso Starace – saxophones

An eagerly expected sequel to her first album Piano Divas in 2017, The Music’s On Me is another production funded mostly by the many fans she built up whilst touring.

On this album, Wendy is the diva and not at all in the negative sense; she shines through this album like a newly minted penny. How nice it is to hear an unselfconscious English accent singing jazz too.

The first track of the selection is The Music In Me and is one of the originals. It shows how much she is influenced but not beholden to Diana Krall graciously giving the first solo to guitarist Pat Sprakes after a chorus of her self-penned witty lyrics. Her own solo is nicely swinging over a rhythm section beautifully recorded. I especially like the drum sound with the subtlety of the snare.

Haven’t We Met has echoes of the beauty of the Eliane Elias trio. Her piano comping to her own vocals is dense and swinging with shafts of sunlight that lift at the right moments. It is worth a listen to the track focusing on Wendy’s piano playing in her solo with her rhythmic sense floating around the 3/4 time. The closeout solo from Sprakes is fine but I perhaps would have opted for a fade-out; whilst unfashionable it does leave the best of the energy remaining on the palette.

Pools, a Don Grolnick chart is the first to feature guest vibes player Roger Beaujolais and features lyrics written by Wendy. The start is another homage to Elias but then transitions to a more Dave Holland sound with the vibes. The subtle drum textures from Steve Wyndham are undetectable unless you listen to them and then you are hooked. Again we have the sung-piano solo where the vocals disappear as she starts to stretch out. I’m reminded of the soloing of Andy Sheppard’s early pianist Dave Buxton with her use of block chords. The lyrics are a perfect match to the dark sophistication of Grolnick’s melody and harmony.

Sandalia Dela has a great Brazilian sound and yet comes from Derbyshire. Is Wendy now to called the Flora Purim of the Peak District? The breeze created by this band soothes the brow and the mind on this musical corcovado. It is a shame however that we couldn’t have had some of Starace blowing Getz-like over the gentle but insistent energy of this rhythm section.

Playground is a gentle and sophisticated track and has tender lyrics masterfully written by Wendy. The sentiment of her writing combines perfectly with the mood of the melody. Beaujolias delights yet again.

Nothing Like You returns to the Krall inspired mood with a tricky bebop tune that ends as suddenly as it began.

Pretucciani’s September Second has long been a favourite of mine and Wendy’s lyrics and piano playing adds a lightness that is charming. Starace makes his first appearance on this track with a deft solo that leads onto an improv from bassist Paul Jefferies.

West Coast Blues is a Wes Montgomery tune that has new lyrics from Wendy and husband/guitarist Pat Sprakes. With such an obvious link to the guitar in the writing, this is a feature for Sprakes to stretch out and it is a delicious sound he makes over a rhythm section that is so at home with itself. The drum solo is a welcome addition over a Scofield-esque groove. With the return of the lyrics it is lovely to admire the Ira Gershwin style punning in the line “We’ll look for that beach house, Could it be David’s hard-to-reach house?”.

O Gato Molhado or The Damp Cat is an original jazz samba penned by Sprake and Kirkland with English and Portuguese lyrics. It has more of that incessant Rio vibe that his group can play expertly.

Sunday In New York has a big band style introduction and a swinging feel that would have made Tony Bennett smile and hammers home this bands credentials as a great live act.

Travelling Home is a delightful closer for the album. It is an achingly personal paen to the life of the musician and the hours spent on the road in pursuit of the art. This is another chance for Pat Sprakes to solo over this Yellowjackets-inspired groove. Tomasso Starace is on soprano here and is such a welcome addition to the track that I wish he was able to do more on the album.

The Music’s On Me is a collection both subtle and complex, happy and poignant, swinging and grooving. Wendy has again done much to show that jazz in Britain is current and accessible which proves why she is so in demand around the country to perform. This is the best of jazz for my mind where the audience hears new ideas and hard tunes introduced in a gentle way that is simply irresistible.

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