Jazz guitarist Chris Standring has announced the release of his album Wonderful World on the ultimate Vibe label. The record not only marks his first collection of jazz standards, but also his first ever large-ensemble record, featuring a full orchestra.
The idea of doing an album of Great American Songbook standards with a trio and orchestra came to me a few years ago, but the ambition and the huge expense kept the project on the back burner. When Covid hit, I had no gigs in the diary, so with time on my hands, I started to seriously study the art of writing for strings.
The album is made up of eleven tunes, one of which is an original, played by a trio of changing membership, a nineteen- piece orchestra (assembled and conducted by bassist Geoff Gascoyne), and one vocalist, all recorded at the Abbey Road Studios, London.
The album begins with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘How Sensitive’ and what a delightful arrangement this is. Everything is subtle: the light Afro-Cuban beat provided by drummer Peter Erskine, the understated use of the string section, and the laid-back guitar sound of Chris Standring: a relaxed introduction to this album. Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ follows, and that relaxed approach remains in place – it all sounds so effortless, something we all know takes a lot of work to pull off. The song ends with a nice little flourish from Chris on guitar. The same trio that played ‘Night and Day’ remains in place for ‘Autumn in New York’ written by Vernon Duke. The strings swoop in under the sound of the guitar, there is the delicate brush work on the drums, and the bass of Chuck Berghofer broadens out the tone but now I am listening out for some variation in either tone or tempo.
‘Estaté’ – not a tune I am familiar with – starts with a bright guitar opening but then quickly reverts to the very relaxed playing style of the opening three numbers. There is variation in timbre and there are some nice punctuating phrases from the orchestra later in the number that ensure that the track stands out from what has gone before. Vocalist Kathrin Shorr adds her dusky tones to ‘What a Wonderful World’ and Chris Standring’s guitar playing is a perfect accompaniment, allowing the vocals to be front and centre. The strings add their support without overpowering either vocalist or guitarist.
‘Green Dolphin Street’ is a terrific tune and we do get a slight injection of pace in this arrangement. Harvey Moon keeps a good swinging beat going under the sound of the guitar, supplemented nicely by the bass of Darek Oleszkiewicz. The film theme tune ‘Alfie’ is the next to get the Standring/Gascoyne treatment. Again, the arrangement is well written and the playing first class, but I should like to have heard something more from this tune, something that reflects the character of Alfie: a young womanising man who leads a self-centred life, purely for his own enjoyment, until events force him to question his uncaring behaviour, his loneliness, and his priorities.
The Rodgers and Hart number ‘Falling in Love with Love’ plays exactly as I would have expected: all lush strings, a gentle swing in waltz time and, in that respect, this arrangement did not disappoint. The Chris Standring composed piece is ‘Sunrise’ and features Randy Brecker on flugelhorn. The beat provided by Harvey Mason on drums is more pronounced than on other tracks and the overall sound has subtle energy about it. Randy Brecker’s solo is a wonderful full-toned sound: possibly the standout track of the album. Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan, wrote ‘Maxine’ and while Chris and Geoff have captured the essence of the original, I do feel that perhaps the tune might have benefitted from the inclusion of the vocals that were originally written for this tune.
The album finishes with ‘My Foolish Heart’, another well-known tune from the Great American Songbook. I particularly enjoyed Chris Standring’s playing on this track with the strings playing in and around his guitar with the melody.
I wanted to give the orchestra lots of space to shine but still play a very supportive role to the melody, and I wanted all the harmony to come from the strings. In that sense, it was vital that the rhythm section instrumentation was sparse…
In that sense, Chris has achieved what he set out to do. This is a well-arranged album played by musicians who clearly understand what is required and delivering beautifully. I should have liked a touch more variation in tempo, energy, and musical styling but make no mistake, this is a sumptuous album which, like the very best gourmet meal, should be savoured at leisure and digested in small mouthfuls.
Wonderful World is released on CD and limited-edition heavyweight vinyl through Ultimate Vibe / Lateralize Records from 3rd September 2021.
Tracklist with soloists:
1. How Insensitive (Chris Standring – guitar; Peter Erskine – Drums; Geoff Gascoyne – Bass) 2. Night & Day (Chris Standring – guitar; Peter Erskine – Drums; Chuck Berghofer – Bass) 3. Autumn in New York (Chris Standring – guitar; Peter Erskine – Drums; Geoff Gascoyne – Bass) 4. Estaté (Chris Standring – guitar; Dave Karasony – Drums; Geoff Gascoyne – Bass) 5. What a Wonderful World (Chris Standring – guitar; Kathrin Shorr – vocals; Peter Erskine – Drums; Chuck Berghofer – Bass) 6. Green Dolphin Street (Chris Standring – guitar; Harvey Mason – drums; Darek Oleszkiewicz – bass) 7. Alfie (Chris Standring – guitar; Harvey Mason – drums; Geoff Gascoyne – bass) 8. Falling in Love with Love (Chris Standring – guitar; Peter Erskine – Drums; Chuck Berghofer – Bass) 9. Sunrise (Chris Standring – guitar; Randy Brecker – flugelhorn; Harvey Mason – drums; Darek Oleszkiewicz – bass) 10. Maxine (Chris Standring – guitar; Harvey Mason – drums; Darek Oleszkiewicz – bass) 11. My Foolish Heart (Chris Standring – guitar; Geoff Gascoyne – bass).