"Who Knows What Love is?" - the title of the second track of this gorgeous set of songs-lays it on the line immediately. "Do you, do you, does anybody...?" Who would dare to be so honest, so raw, so utterly emotional as to ask the question in a dozen different ways - in the end, finding no answer.
Ever since time began, it seems, romance has been on the human mind, and frequently expressed in song. Surely no era was more romantically inclined than the 1930s and 1940s, from which many of these gems have been culled. Singer/songwriter/pianist Gary David felt that his exploration of these timeless classics was more than just a foray into the rudiments of romance. Evidence can be found to the contrary in the above quoted "Who Knows What Love Is?", written by David himself, a number of years ago when he was pianist and musical director for the waybefore-its-time experimental group called Sound of Feeling.
Then, again, if you really want to analyze some of these titles and come up with explanations not easily recognized by everyone, take "Dancing in the Dark." Gary feels that this medley speaks about the dance of life - "Surely many of us sometimes feel like we're dancing in the dark," he postulates. "The Right To Dream Medley" is a weaving together of Rodgers & Hart, Jimi Hendrix and Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn, exhorting us to believe in our dreams, no matter what. Gary explains: "It takes a romantic person to daydream, and nothing that human beings have accomplished ever came without daydreaming - like going to the moon."
A couple of tunes herein have been "rediscovered": for example, the Kurt WeillMaxwell Anderson "Thousands of Miles" was a lost masterpiece and Gary had not heard it recorded by anyone before, except in its original version from the stage production of "Lost in the Stars," produced in 1949. "Round About," by Vernon Duke with a lyric by Ogden Nash, was written three decades ago at least for a Jerome Robbins dream ballet, and comes off marvelously in the sensitive hands of Gary and company. Pianist Bob Fylling's composing expertise is displayed in the "Never Laugh at Stars" medley. Gary says to listen to the lyrics of "I Used To Laugh At Stars," and see the wonder of romance that can take us beyond our logic-and, he adds, "there's the sheer poetry of 'Some Silent Star."
To my ear, Gary's most romantic side can be found in the two beautiful standard melodies, "I'm Glad There Is You" and "Maybe You'll Be There." How many times have words like these been intoned to a loved one-and how often have we wished it could be said in just this way? The purity and simplicity of his voice and his deeply-felt emotion are stunning.
This project is especially dear to Gary's heart, since it came about because of old friends (Gary has known Bob Fylling and engineer/musician Wayne Johnson since the 1950s) wanting to get together and make music again. After batting some ideas around for a while, along came bassist Richard Maloof, so "in tune" with everything, and offering his own special contribution. Listen to the "up front" presence of his bass. It tends to give the overall sound an unusual perspective for such sparse instrumentation. Gary feels that Wayne's creative ear is responsible for that.
Gary recognizes that on the surface "Never Laugh At Stars" is a romantic album. "But I see romance as a cosmic seduction; locally we're seduced by the 'magic' that happens between two people, but that is just an invitation to be replaced by the miraculous binding energies that hold' all of creation in order."
Not exactly an answer to the ages-old question of what love is; yet some solace for the inveterate romantics among us. And the bottom line, of course, is that these ten songs are superbly interpreted by three unabashedly romantic musicians. Vive l'amour!
West Coast Editor, Jazz Times