Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Vocalist Mark Winkler celebrates life with "The Company I Keep"

It is not easy to lose someone who you are close to. Grief can be debilitating, especially if the person you lose has been the object of your undying affection for thirty-five years. Vocalist Mark Winkler experienced this when he lost his husband and friend movie executive Richard  Del Belso last year.

Instead of using the experience to sit and sulk, Winkler turned the emotions this loss elicited into a source of inspiration to renew friendships, immerse himself in his music and create his latest album, The Company I Keep. Winkler is one of the few hip, male singers that has both the chops and the intellectual affinity for writing clever lyrics of the type we associate with the Great American Songbook.

On The Company I Keep, Winkler has shown he also has an ear for great collaborations. The album features duets with longtime collaborator Cheryl Bentyne of Manhattan Transfer fame, vocalists Jackie Ryan, Claire Martin, Sara Gazarek and Steve Tyrell. The musicianship on this album is stellar with arrangements by Jamieson Trotter, John Beasley, Josh Nelson and Rich Eames.  

My favorite tracks feature Mark singing his own lyrics. Songs like the campy Bill Cantos’ composition  “Midnight in Paris”  with special kudos to the clarinet work of Don Shelton and the poignant violin of Paul Cartwright. The Bourbon Street flavored “But It Still A’int So” with Steve Tyrell singing with a gusto reminiscent of a young Mac Rebennack, is another highlight, punctuated with a gusty tenor solo by the yeoman Bob Sheppard.

Winkler is a developed taste, like appreciating a fine bourbon, he grows on you over time with his smooth, smoky delivery. His voice just nails all the right notes and he has a mastery of that long-lost art of storytelling.

If you have any doubts, just listen to his captivating story about an old jazz singer on “That Afternoon in Harlem” featuring the magical stride-like piano work of Eric Reed, the soulful trombone of Bob McChesney and the incomparable brush work of Jeff Hamilton. The musical scene just lingers in your mind and then as the lyrics lament “For a moment the world just fell away.”

Mark was strongly influenced by the late jazz vocalist Mark Murphy. His treatment of one of Murphy’s lyricized versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” is a special tribute. The duet with Claire Martin includes Winkler’s own lyrics that accurately depicts seeing the singer famously performing his daring do “without a net,” capturing Murphy’ spirited, vocal adventurism.  A delicately bowed bass intro/outro and a subsequent pizzicato solo on the tender “Loves Comes Quietly” by the great John Clayton is a real treat. The song also features Reed’s sensitive piano comping and again Jeff Hamilton’s superb trap work.  

The joyful Leonard Berstien song "Lucky to Be Me" features David Benoit on piano and uplifting clarinet solo by the versatile Bob Sheppard. Rich Eames gorgeous piano accompanies Winkler's heartfelt rendition of "Here's to Life."

This is Winkler’s fifteenth cd and features an eclectic repertoire of songs from composers as diverse as Gershwin, Donald Fagen, Prince, Leonard Bernstein and Oliver Nelson. There is something here for everyone. The man has exquisite taste and a beguiling voice that deserves widespread attention. Bravo Mark,  I’am sure Richard would be most proud.

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