Liner copy for “Alone Together”
Don’t look for that bittersweet ballad, “Alone Together,” anywhere on this album. But you will find the concept of working alone and together pervading the entire CD. As with their live appearances and club dates, a fairly consistent pattern emerges as Lance solos, then Stephanie sings a tune by herself, followed by a duet. This, they assure me, is “show biz.” Well, duh! I was convinced that every set was strictly random, each singer, or both, miraculously materializing at the right mike at the right time.
Actually, randomness plays a key element in the suuccess of the Buller/Porter show. As they assured me, the term is “ad lbbing” (don’t you just love all this technical talk?) and each of them is such a devout ad-libber, the bottom line is: they swing reliigously. Neither one knows what the other will do or say at any given time. Fans of Buller and Porter never hear the same thing twice. They are so dedicated to spontaneity It keeps Lance and Steph on their respective toes, and keeps their admirers coming back for more. The same tunes always sound fresh. In case you’re wondering whether each re-play of this album will sound different, that happens only on the Sci-Fi Channel. What you have
here is like a freeze frame of film. But reality can be refreshng, particularly if you have frequent mood swings. (Apologies for the blatant commercial, but there’s more where this came from. Check CD Baby for their previous album, “Mood Swngs.”)
The current collection begins with a groovy travelogue. “Route 66 ” immediaely introduces the rhythm section of Chris Woitech, guitar; Craig Hoyer, piano; Larry Holloway, bass; and, new to B/P fans, Travis Raney, noodling in the background on tenor sax, waiting for his turn to display his chops. Buller describes Raney’s smooth tenor style as “reminiscent of Pete Christlieb.” It’s a good opener that establishes the Porter/Buller
brand of civilized swing. Buller switches the mood from “civilized” to “twisted” on track 2, when he sings the clever Annie Ross tune, Twisted, based on a solo by the late tenorist, Wardell Gray. Lance takes it a bit slower than it’s usually sung. A wise choice; the words can be understood.
Time for the first duet, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. One thing that’s noticeable: the trademark “ooh” sound so often used by Buller rubs off on Ms Porter. That’s a switch. As Lance told me, “she’s beginning to rub off on me!” The duet is one of the most popular items in their book. Lately, by Stevie Wonder, is romanced by Buller, playing flugelhorn over a gentle bossa nova beat. Listen to the subtle suggestion by Woitech of the Bill Evans waltz, Emily, which eases its way into the background a number of times. It’s a beautiful, relaxing track…Buller at his loving best, instrumentally.
Of significance is Stephanie’s solo approach to I’ve Got the World On a String.” It reveals her higly personal way of improvising, particularly on a ballad with a medium jazz beat. She possesses a rare talent for swinging by re-writing whole sections of a tune, even shifting accents, rather than resorting to scat. There’s nothing cliché about that Porter chick. Another welcome addition to the group’s repertoire: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, thanks to the Brothers Gershwin. Instead of broad satire, they decide to chide each other respectfully. Lance also decides to add some digs that Ira Gershwin never thought of. These are things they both do so well in their live engagements. You never know what to expect with those two.
But if we’re talking Stephanie in ballad mode, we know what to expect, and Track 7, Lover Man, turns out to be the moment of truth: just voice and guitar. Porter and Woitach. Musically, it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Chris can anticipate every breath that Stephanie takes. For her, it’s the ultimate freedom; no rhythmic restrictions; for him, few harmonic limitations. Chris knows Stephanie’s ear is impeccable. Whatever re-harmonizing he wishes to explore, Stephanie won’t be thrown off. This rendition of Lover Man is the height of intimacy. Suddenly, “lover man” shows up in the person of Lance Buller asking, in the King’s English, Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? What a juxtaposition! Only in a Buller/Porter set. Whatever. He shows off his usual mellifluous approach to the Louis Jordan classic with swinging élan.
A challenging duet follows, this one a Frank Loesser classic, Baby It’s Cold Outside. The contrast is fascinating: she’s subdued, sounding like a pert flirt; he tries to be reluctant, but you can hear his willpower melt. There’s a subtle clue: the first time they harmonize on the ending, Lance reaches for the higher note; By the end of the second chorus, it’s Steph who asserts her feminine dominance with the higher notes. All or Nothing At All finds Ms Porter in her rhythmical comfort zone, building, always building tension with that barely detectable quiver in her voice, fading so effectively over the extended tag with Lance’s velvety flugelhorn playing, so carefully choosng his notes, interpolating, of all things, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? Listen carefully to Larry Holloway, the Northwest’s most melodic bassist. He begins with an intriguing, 4-note ostinato figure and keeps going throughout most of the tune. Very effective.
Equally effective is the fanfare-like arranging (by Lance) on the intro to his own tune, The Big Red Switch, the kind of change of pace, in this case, R & B, that keeps Lance dancing around the stage and Steph smiling ear to ear. It’s a good opportunity for Craig to flex his organ chops and Travis Raney to get down and dirty on tenor. Each time the title is sung, a granitic R & B unison figure helps sustain the mood. The final duet of the album finds a novel approach to the Irving Berlin challenge, Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: it’s a mambo! There’s cute give-and-take by Steph and Lance, who also scores with some good Latin trumpeting.
More brass-plated heroics on Track 13 as Lance dedicates a twofisted (rather two-lipped) tribute to Clark Terry, Mr. Terry’s Tune (One For Mumbles), an original that Lance fashioned to allow him to alternate, at warp speed, between flugelorn and muted trumpet –- something Terry is known for. It’s a relaxed affair, with all the players contributing countrified licks. Talk about relaxed, dig the laid-back environment on Honey Hush between Lance and his buddy, Neil Anderson, -- he of Pearl Django fame – with his distinctive guitar sound.
The finale, appropriately, is culled from a recent live appearance. That’s because it’s My Heart Belongs To Daddy, a Latin and jazz feature that now belongs to Ms Porter. That’s because her daddy is Cole Porter. Just kidding. It’s hers because, thanks to KPLU, Steph made a big national splash with it a couple of years back. The other reason a live recording was chosen is because a studio will never duplicate the electricity generated by a live audience. Lance plays his embouchure off and Stephanie knows how to work magic with the word Daddy. The last time she twists it, she gallops: duh-duh DAH, duh-duh DAH, duh-duh DAH. The gal is a break-up, same for the band, and ditto for the album.
Jazz Times Magazine