On Craig Buhler’s most recent release Skykomish, the multitalented reed player has taken a group of wide-ranging popular songs and deftly given them significantly altered arrangements to achieve predominantly wonderful results. His intelligent end products never fail to be both interesting and provocative. As an added treat, Skykomish also includes two well constructed and instantly likable Craig Buhler new compositions.
Possibly presented as a respectful nod to fellow sax man Joshua Redmond, Buhler’s original composition "Roll Over Redmond" gets the disc off to a swinging bluesy start. His sassy baritone sax is solidly in command on this contagiously danceable romp. "What A Fool Believes" follows, and bears small semblance to the hit version of Michael McDonald and The Doobie Brothers. Featuring a premium cocktail lounge flavor, led by the prominent horn section, it loses some of the vibrant urgency which made the original so compelling. That being said, it displays high-quality musicianship and suggests how the group Chicago might now tackle the song.
"When You Believe" is driven by a tandem of vibes and piano, and features a lighthearted saxophone against the backdrop of cymbals and low key percussion. The guitar break is polished and, while not overly showy in nature, rewarding. The Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston hit version, taken from the movie "Prince of Egypt," was highly inspirational (there can be miracles, when you believe); but I take pleasure in the way the song here lets this entire medium-sized ensemble sparkle.
Lennon and McCartney’s classic "Eleanor Rigby" in Buhler’s hands takes on the characteristics of a detective film noir theme from a few decades ago. The drumming stands out, as does the pert trumpeting, and the remainder of the expert and intricate instrumentation. While different than the Beatles masterpiece; it is equally striking and contains a similar dark, foreboding mood.
The second original Buhler composition is entitled "Skykomish Shuffle." A toe-tapping jazz-blues beat is teamed with submitted leads by brass, piano, vibraphone, and guitar amidst a rolling pulsating percussion. When the stand up acoustic bass takes his turn, you’ll surely be hooked. The cover striking the mark most squarely is Stevie Wonder’s "Creepin’." It’s without doubt a true bulls-eye. The un-hurried rendering is sheer savory delight. It creeps along leisurely, due in great part to the breezy slinky vibraphone and smoky-warm sax which escort the melody gracefully along.
"If You Could Read My Mind," from troubadour Gordon Lightfoot, is treated to a slightly slowed arrangement, with piano, guitar, vibes, and sax, all contributing marvelously as each in turn tranquilly caress the melody. The top-notch percussion is understatedly elegant and fitting. These talented musicians are simply superb all the way through Skykomish.
The Bacharach/David song "Windows Of The World" is regal and harmonizes to the overall mood of the CD perfectly. The calming vibraphone on this marvelous musical composition steers the listener into a dreamlike state which offers a glimpse into the reassuring worldly windows of Buhler and company’s inner peaceful minds.
Buhler takes a big risk covering Foreigner’s "Waiting For A Girl Like You;" and after the initial shock is absorbed, the result is agreeable. Also quite agreeable is the touch applied to the Gospel classic "Oh Happy Day." The arrangement smoothly shifts between Dixieland and a more traditional rhythm effortlessly.
A splendid piano is forefront as Craig Buhler and his impressive cohorts arguably "Save the Best for Last." Tenderly rendered, it’s the icing on the cake of this CD that ends the proceedings on an extremely high note. While perhaps not for everyone, Skykomish greatly appeals to me. This recording should fascinate anyone who has an open mind combined with a passionate interest in quality instrumental pop/jazz textures.