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Your Cheatin Heart and other works by Jim Ridl

Here is classic piano-based jazz done very well. This is the kind of CD you don’t have to think a lot about - you can toss it in and hit almost any track and come up with a winner.

It is soothing, refreshing, uplifting music that makes you feel so good you don’t even pay attention to how good it is technically. But closer inspection does reveal playing excellence throughout. The wonderful grooves are probably attributable to the fact that the overall talent here is a cut above what you might find in your favorite watering hole (depends on your watering hole, of course). This is Ridl’s fifth CD, but it serves as a fine introduction to him for newbies (including this reviewer).

Ridl is a superb pianist who shows his chops on his own compositions (all but three of the seven tracks). His detailed liner notes (in that annoying no-caps downstyle) won’t mean much to non-musicians. But it says something about him that he credits by name both of the pianos he uses (a Yamaha grand and a Happyland baby).

After the album opens with a bouncy trio interpretation of Hank Williams’ "Your Cheating Heart," Ridl’s own "Grazed by Light" shows deft touches of both classical and jazz forms. In fact, Ridl has split this into two tracks: a brief two-minute prelude that is more classical, and the longer group piece that leaps off Ridl’s keyboard into Ron Kerber’s smooth soprano sax. It takes so many twists and turns, as many of the tracks do, that it does seem like a deliberate attempt at symphonic structure. But you don’t need to be a music student to appreciate the work. This group never forgets that music is to be enjoyed, first and foremost--a rather fresh quality that contrasts with the self-conscious works of some other classically-trained jazzos. The remaining tracks have the same quality (hint: don’t expect "Tennessee Waltz" to sound like "Tennessee Waltz").

The album has no vocals per se, but Ridl employs human voice as an instrument, through the fast and versatile tongue of J. D. Walter. His voicings are not what one would think of as traditional scat they seem more like modern Brazilian bop, to the point that some of it may be actual Portuguese. (Amid the echo and effects, it is hard to tell).

Providing a solid foundation for all of it are drummer Jim Miller, bassist Steve Varner, and Jef Lee Johnson on guitar and mandolin.

It is true that improvisation is the soul of jazz (and certainly many of the riffs here were probably inspired in the playing). But this album is also great evidence that well-written and thoughtfully produced tracks can get that same inspirational feel. That feel also comes from careful layering and interweaving of parts, and that is very well done here. Not a note is wasted. Like an impressionistic painting that requires you to stand back from the brushstrokes to see the true image, this music is simply beautiful. It does not need to be anything more.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jim Ridl
  • CD Title: Your Cheatin Heart and other works
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Dream Box Media
  • Tracks: Your Cheatin’ Heart, Grazed by Light: solo prelude, Grazed by Light: group, Tennessee Waltz, Caravan, Antiphon (tri vulti pacis), Smile' Said the Drum'
  • Musicians: Jim Ridl (piano), J. D. Walter (vocals), Jim Miller (drums), Steve Varner (bass), Jef Lee Johnson (guitar and mandolin)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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