Much of the music currently promoted as jazz, whether instrumental or vocal, relies on self-dramatizing gestures: shouts and whispers, squeaks and honks, dizzying speeds, flurries of notes, empty virtuosity that soon grows tedious. Hanna and Phil aren't self-defined stars who demand the spotlight in their performances; they are musicians whose first obligation is to the song and to melodic improvisation.
Rather than act out a lyric, Hanna may treat it with near-conversational informality, the result natural yet slyly persuasive. In her initial choruses, she sets out the song as a great melodist might - perhaps Johnny Hodges or Bobby Hackett - shining her light from behind the notes rather than overpowering them. Revisiting the music for a second chorus, she is freer but never self-indulgent, embellishing phrases, subtly improvising by placing a word over an unexpected note, stretching one phrase, delaying another. Her approach points up the beauties of first-rate material and hides the limitations of lesser songs, making the familiar seem fresh.
Phil's rich sound, solid beat, and choice of notes are in the great tradition that stretches from Pops Foster to Paul Chambers. Jazz bassists still appear next-to-last in the solo order, but Phil makes the instrument sing, never treating it as an oversized guitar with an oddly deep voice. At fast tempos, he is agile but each note is precisely articulated. Although Phil is entirely at home with bebop, he offers all the support any rhythm section needs with a strong yet fluid 4 / 4 pulse. Like Hanna, he is concise, making a half-chorus more meaningful than another bassist's lengthy excursions.
For these sessions, Hanna and Phil surrounded themselves with fine, sympathetic musicians. Bob Sneider is Jazz Guitar Professor at the Eastman School of Music, has won two Downbeat awards, and has toured with Chuck Mangione and performed with everyone from Jon Faddis to Etta Jones. Sneider never plays a note too many in his solos; his comping is subtle, his tone burnished. Mike Melito has worked with James Moody, Barry Harris, and Gene Bertoncini. Here, his solos recall his elders Zutty Singleton and Sidney Catlett, for he often begins by paraphrasing the melody, appropriate to this melody-rich band. In the 1970s, Chris Flory, like Phil, worked with Scott Hamilton in small bands that reminded listeners of the glories of small-band swing. He has recorded with Maxine Sullivan, Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff and Bob Wilber, and, as a member of Benny Goodman's late-period big band and small groups, he brought his own inventiveness to the music once created by Charlie Christian. His chordal work has a rich texture; his single-note lines hover in air. Reedman John Doughten has played with Charlie Byrd, Warren Vache, and the Brooks Tegler Trio. Where some tenor players state their jazz credentials by roughing up their tone, Doughten has a creamy sound reminiscent of Zoot Sims or Eddie Miller. On clarinet, he has a gracious, pensive approach to an instrument that tempts many players into excess.
Things are looking up when Hanna Richardson and Phil Flanigan make music, on the bandstand or in the studio.
--from the liner notes by Michael Steinman
Praise for "Things Are Looking Up"
"Hanna has just completed a British tour, and to my great regret I was unable to get to see her. However, I have the consolation of this superb CD, which is a delight from start to finish. Hanna displays innate good taste in her serene yet heartfelt approach to these songs, and is well supported by bass-playing husband Phil Flanigan and a tasty guitar-based quartet, who are featured on three instrumental tracks. Fine jazz-tinged singing with respect for the melody, mature interpretation of the lyrics without any histrionics and mannerisms. Highly recommended."
-- Jerry Stonestreet, editor, In Tune International, September 2004
"This is Richardson's second CD and much as I liked her first (reviewed in JJI, November 2002 by Martin Richards), this one is a sure and certain step forward. As before, the singer is accompanied by her husband, bassist Flanigan, an automatic assurance of musical quality. Flory is, of course, an old comrade of Flanigan's from their days as regular members of Scott Hamilton's band. Sneider, a new name to me on record, is Jazz Guitar Professor at the Eastman School of Music. The decision to use two guitars on the date and no piano is fully borne out by the rhythmic fluidity and
melodic grace of their playing. Melito and Doughton are musicians of whom I have not previously heard but I intend correcting that deficiency in my listening habits. The repertoire selected by Richardson displays both her
eclecticism and her ability to uncover little-known songs that deserve the spotlight she now shines on them. Singing in a clear and unaffected manner, she clearly relishes the opportunity to share her pleasure in this material.
Richardson has already made friends and attracted audiences in the UK through personal appearances and her debut CD. This new set will appeal to them enormously and will doubtless add to their numbers, as indeed it should. An extensive and informative note by Michael Steinman and very good sound round out an attractive CD that is recommended to all those who like good songs well sung."
--- Bruce Crowther, Jazz Journal International, August 2004