One of the greatest soundtracks composers of America ever produced was and remains the late Henry Mancini, whose works adorn four decades worth (the 1950’s-1980’s) or so of good and great films (and even TV -- Peter Gunn: him.) While not strictly speaking a jazz composer, Mancini drew upon jazz for inspiration and often featured several fine jazz soloists (including Art Pepper, Plas Johnson, and Tony Coe). Jazz saxophonist Ted Nash, whose father Dick (trombone) and uncle Ted (sax) frequently worked with Mancini, has fashioned an exemplary tribute to HM.
The younger Nash arranged 14 gems for a small group, featuring his poised flute/piccolo and fine, hearty, occasionally breathy tenor sax. Nash clearly loves Mancini’s melodies, giving them respectful but also creative, exhilarating interpretations. His lithe, shiny tenor is in the mainstream tradition (i.e., Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon) with some occasional inspired free flurries and overblowing, plus he lets a wee bit of rhythm & blues flavor into the mix. Frank Kimbrough is, simply put, a superb pianist, one of the finest hepcats out there these days -- he's imaginative, lyrical, driving, he knows when to pull back and when to let 'er rip. Rufus Reid and Matt Wilson are so tasteful one might overlook how wonderfully supportive they are.
The longest tune is seven & 1/2 minutes, the shortest a minute & 23 seconds -- that ought to tell you something right there: No excess, no water-treading or meandering. This Project walks the fine line between cerebral and immediate (I've seen Nash's 4tet live very recently -- they had the crowd in the collective/figurative palm of hand), between moody and straightforward. The Mancini Project is one of those albums that encapsulates what jazz is about, and it's great fun, too. (Try to catch TN 4tet live.)