By Clive Griffin for Jazz Inside Magazine Feb-2012
The new recording, I Can Cook Too! by vocalist Sue Halloran and saxophonist Ken Hitchcock is much more than an album full of magnificently performed arrangements of choice songs from the Great American Songbook, arranged by extraordinary arrangers. Yes, the album is also peppered with swinging solos by improvising masters including Romero Lubambo, pianist Mark Soskin, and saxophonist Ken Hitchcock himself. But more than that, the creation of this album is the gift that the two leaders Sue and Ken have given to each other to celebrate their 25 year anniversary. Isn’t that great? – especially in the face of all of the bad news with which we’re deluged by the mainstream“noise” media about everything from the economy to the state of education, the family and more.The opening of this album makes it clear the listener is in for a good time. Powerful syncapations and masterful dynamics lead the wayinto Jobim’s “Somewhere In The Hills.” Ms. Halloran offers a graceful interpretation of the lyric. Hitchcock follows with a lithe solo journey on tenor sax. Then the ensemble and Ms. Halloran return with the vocalist right on top of a line written for the full ensemble. Her warm and inviting voice, and impressive intonation ideally complement the full band. There’s quite a bit more on this recording featuring this style of glistening linear writing that presents Ms. Halloran’s voice with sax section or full ensemble.Romero Lubambo gets a chance to shine with a brief but outstanding, rhythmically driven and lyrical guitar solo.The title tune, “I Can Cook Too” composed by Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden, features a heavy-duty, back beat swing groove with Gary Versace on B3 organ and big band style backgrounds. The lyrics are humorous as is the tongue-in-cheek cover photo of Ms. Halloran, barefoot, in red dress with a pan of spaghetti, next to sax-playing partner Ken Hitchcock.The medley of “I’ve Got It Bad” and“Autumn Nocturne” is powerfully emotional. Carlos Franzetti is a remarkable arranger. His deft sculpting of the ensemble, with flutes on top of this woodwind ensemble, is nothing if not rich, buoyant, happy and electrifying. If you’ve heard any of his richly sonorous arranging, you’ll recognize that this level of perfection is very much standard for him – but like any miracle, never to be taken for granted. The selection begins out of tempo, conducted. Ken Hitchcock takes a soaring solo on tenor sax which leads into the happy and colorful rhythmic transition to a Bossa-like groove for “Autumn Nocturne.” One of the extraordinary aspects of this ballad medley is how powerful and intense it is, and yet it is“quiet” compared to the up tempo burning from which many expect intensity to emerge. That is a counter-intuitive understanding for sure. Of course, anyone who has heard vocalist Shirley Horn on record or when she was alive, would likely understand this. But it is an understanding which - with the clarity that improvisers develop over many years with maturity, that “less is more” – is indispensable in the creation of music that is full of emotion, thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Both Ken Hithccock and his foil vocalist Sue Halloran embody these concepts in their music. Franzetti also arranged the medium groove,“Let’s Fall In Love.” Ms. Halloran opens the piece with a rendition of the verse. After her interpretation of the melody, there is a modulation, she sings a pre-written bop-oriented line, orchestrated as a soli with the entire sax ensemble. Ken Hitchcock follows with an electrifying, if all-too-brief solo on soprano sax. Much of the festivities are padded with beautiful string background sand then powerful full ensemble topping. Ken Hitchcock moves to tenor sax on “I’lltake Romance” and stretches out over an extended opening vamp provided by Franzetti on piano, David Finck on bass, Ray Marchica on drums. This more exploratory section gives way to Hitchcock addressing the melody and then the entire musical atmosphere morphing into a relaxed and gentle jazz waltz with Ms. Halloran, center stage, in commanding stature, sensitively delivering the melody. Following a solo bass chorus by Finck, there is a muscular move backinto 4/4 time. The two celebrants – Ms. Halloranand Mr. Hitchcock – share a scat-style, bop oriented line, and then a return to the 3/4 jazzwaltz, as Ms. Halloran re-states the theme, with a short tag extension to cap it off. Ms. Halloran serves up more feel good, medium groove stuff on “Look At That Face,”by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The album concludes with a pensive interpretation of Richard Rodgers’ “My Funny Valentine”– uniquely orchestrated for voice and clarinets alone. Ms. Halloran’s vocals, the clever melodic backgrounds and harmonically-rich voicings left me tingling at the conclusion – a perfect ending to their wonderful gift.