Craig Fraedrich – trumpet and flugelhorn
Christal Rheams – vocals
Tony Nalker – piano
Todd Harrison – drums
Paul Henry – bass
The musicians on this album have all been playing together for twenty-plus years, but never in this exact combination. The group all met while playing with premier military bands in Washington DC. Fraedrich first recorded with bassist Paul Henry in 1990. Pianist Tony Nalker and Fraedrich have worked together virtually daily since 1989, recording a duo CD in 1995 with vocalist Christal Rheams joining them in 2002, forming the group Trilogy and recording two CDs.
The music here is a good reflection of who these great musicians are – unpretentious, subtle and mature.
The album opens with the Al Jolson standard Avalon. Christal’s Anita O’Day influenced vocal over the stagnant harmony creates a more mournful quality than what might usually be associated with this tune. The flugelhorn and piano solos are developmental with a sense of restrained energy..
The modulations between B-flat and D-flat on “Smile” are smoothly accomplished, resulting in an arrangement the nicely frames the beautifully interpreted vocal melody and melodic solos by muted trumpet and piano.
Fraedrich had arranged Nobody Knows the Trouble I See this as an up jazz waltz with me on flugelhorn but Tony suggested the Bill Evans feel and it worked great. Fraedrich switched to Harmon mute and it all came together. This is engineer Dan Shores’ favorite cut. Great feel, bass and piano solos. A really nice and balanced selection all around.
Fraedrich has long liked the tune Without a Song, spending many hours as a student with Freddie Hubbard’s version. The reharmonization is a challenge to negotiate but sounds very natural. The first solo chorus introduces the exceptional solo skills of Todd Harrison on drums. The drum and piano trading is an interesting and nice change of pace.
The Gospel Truth takes Tony and Fraedrich back to their first collaborations and duo CD. A simple Blues with a few chromatic secondary dominants – just a little preaching to the choir!
Frankie and Johnny is one of two tunes on the album that Fraedrich had been hearing fairly frequently on the radio and became intrigued with. After playing around with it for a while, he came up with this 3/4, gospel, Mingus-esq version that is fun to play. It features a great drum solo by Todd over the form.
Christal really wanted to record Strange Fruit, for reasons of her own, and everybody is glad she did! The arrangement Fraedrich brought in was pretty close to a straight homage to Billie Holiday and while it doesn’t lose that quality, Christal’s mix of Billie and Nina Simone influences and Tony’s compositional development of the harmony really frames the text beautifully. This one really highlights the fantastic piano they had at Sono Luminous as well as the great and natural acoustic sound of the room.
Fraedrich had been listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham (Blue Spring, Blue Monday, Blue Spring Shuffle etc.) just prior to writing Blues Another Day. This one can go just about anywhere when performed live.
While two separate cuts on this album, recently the group has been performing I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child combined as a medley. Both of these arrangements hint back to some of Fraedrich’s straight-eighth ECM influences from the 1980s. Doing traditional tunes in this manner creates an interesting contradiction and frames the text in a new light. Check out the interaction between Todd and Tony on Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child – both are consummate accompanists who interact beautifully together.
St. James Infirmary is the second tune that Fraedrich had been hearing on the radio and it stuck with him. He extended the form a bit, added some sharp – 9 chords and the reoccurring motive.
The album closes with the old lullaby All Through the Night. Fraedrich remembers this song from childhood and it is one he has always wanted to do something with. It is reharmonized, arranged, and performed with references to the quintessential jazz lullaby, Lil’ Darling.