The entire album honors Cheatham and he would have loved this group - three youthful players, Croker, Sullivan Fortner on piano, bassist Joe Sanders plus the young-at-heart Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums. The tunes are familiar, the tradition is respected, and yet the players bring with them their own musical background.
Croker is as lyrical as Bobby Hackett on ballads which include "I Cover the Waterfront" and " She's Funny That Way." He approaches "You're Blasé" with understatement in contrast to Sonny Dunham's high drama of yesteryear. His disarming vocals are a bonus throughout, particularly on " I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues."
"It Don't Mean a Thing" and Hoagy's "New Orleans" illustrate the band's ability to swing hard and give pianist Fortner an opportunity to shine. His melancholy intro to "New Orleans" sets the listener up for surprise. Cheatham's old friend, the exuberant trombonist Benny Powell, drops by for "St. Louis Blues" and a good-natured version of "Jada," allowing for some interesting conversation between the horns. And Croker really makes his trumpet talk on "Gee,Baby, Ain't I Good To You." On the old crowd-pleaser, "Bourbon Street Parade," the whole band displays Mardi Gras spirit in music and song, spurred on by Tootie's inspired drumming.
Theo Croker should be proud of this, his first Arbors release. It proves that you don't need to be flashy to engage an audience. It's the music.
Note: To learn more about this talented young musician, search this site for Paul J. Youngman's review of Croker's 2007 debut album, The Fundamentals. All originals, and he was only 21. For Doc Cheatham, check out my review of Chuck Folds and his Sweet Basil Friends Remember Doc Cheatham, released by Arbors in 2000.