Audio Mixer: Bob Baldwin.
Recording information: Elmsford, NY; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; Maui, HI; NewUrbanJazz.com Studios, New York, NY.
Given songwriter and producer Thom Bell's legendary reputation, it's difficult to believe that this is the first contemporary jazz record to pay tribute to his work. Co-produced by Bob Baldwin, Will Downing, and former Bell sideman Preston Glass, Betcha by Golly Wow is a second chapter for Baldwin and Downing; the first was Never Can Say Goodbye: A Tribute to Michael Jackson in 2009. As has been typical of his own recordings for the past two decades, Baldwin plays multiple instruments, from drums and bass to keyboards. The three producers have enlisted a star-studded cast to create a seamless, warm, and elegant selection of Bell tunes. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," features Russ Freeman's guitar holding court on the melody. Ragan Whiteside and Paul Brown -- on flutes and guitars respectively -- funk things up a bit on "The Rubberband Man," with Baldwin's piano slipping the lyric line in between in the stepping groove. Vivian Green's vocals grace a fine reading of "La-La Means I Love You." Gerald Albright, Downing, and Baldwin reprise their cover of "Break Up to Make Up" from 1993. Downing's voice may be a bit lower 20 years later, but it's lost none of its expressiveness. A sweet, uptempo reading of "I'll Be Around" features the soprano saxophone of Marion Meadows, as does the closer "People Make the World Go Round," played as an elegant groover. The latter features some lovely piano work by Baldwin.The only cut that doesn't work here is "Bell & Creed," an overly sentimental tribute to the songwriter and producer Linda Creed, Bell's production partner at Philly International. That small hiccup aside, this is a well-arranged, nicely selected collection of some of Bell's finest tunes, performed by some of contemporary jazz's best. ~ Thom Jurek