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REVIEWS : Never Open With A Ballad

Jazz Improv Magazine
: Dave Miele

Jim Pearce is in possession of a special type of “triple threat.” I don’t know if he can dance or act. That’s not the kind I mean. What Pearce certainly can do is sing, play piano and write great music. He does plenty of each on his latest CD, Never Open With a Ballad. He and his band play in relaxed, straight -ahead jazz style. The songs (each tune on the CD is a Pearce original) are unique. Pearce has a clearly developed compositional style. The arrangements bring out the best from each composition. The musicians bring out the best from each arrangement. Never Open With a Ballad is seriously swingin’ CD that is infinitely worth a listen or two.

Pearce does not take his own advice on the title tune, which opens the program and is indeed a ballad. The leader stays out of the limelight on this one, rendering this tune as a feature for saxophonist Eric South. South plays soprano sax on the following tune, sharing the melody with trumpeter Joe Gransden. Entitled “Spectacular Orange Array,” this is a medium tempo swinger which displays Pearce’s fluid , relaxed improvisational style. Gransden is also featured in an extended solo. One of several vocal tunes follow. Entitled the things I’ve Seen,” the tune has a humorous lyric filled with references to several jazz artists, past and present (there performances being several of the things Pearce has “seen”). The lyric reveals itself as a sweet love song with it’s payoff. Of all these things Pearce has seen , none compare to his love. Pearce sings with a unique swingin’ style that is comparable to his playing style. “Cleebo’s Samba” is an energetic latin tune. South and Gransden share the melody and take strong improvisations.

The second vocal tune is another love song. “Debbie Marie” is again set in a medium swing tempo (this is obviously a favorite of Pearce’s) with a relaxed vibe. Pearce and South both solo. “Barely Touching” is a tender ballad that features piano, sax and trumpet solos. The energy of this tune is gently restrained. Pearce shows a clear affinity for love songs with his third vocal track “More and More and More.” He keeps his contributions to singing and comping. Gransden and South improvise. “Left Coast” is another medium swinger, with an interesting melody played first by Pearce alone than doubled by South. Both men take strong improvisations. The album closes on a gentle note. “Not This Not That” is a serene ballad, rendered by piano trio. “This Daily Mystery” is a final tune. The mystery is how such a wonderful girl could be in love with Pearce (who is obviously either a huge fan of love songs or deeply in love - perhaps both). The closing number is an unaccompanied piano solo entitled “Clouded Canyon.”

There’s enough diversity on Never open With a Ballad to please the most electic ears.

Pearce is a more than competent composer who is capable of filling with an entire program of original material. What’s more impressive is that his compositional style doesn’t disappoint and holds the listener’s interest throughout. His style is unique yet diverse. The vocal tunes add another element of variety to the proceedings. Pearce is not a virtuoso singer; he is most assuredly a virtuoso swinger however. The final element of Pearce’s musical contributions-his fine piano playing-completes the picture of a well rounded musician and an engaging improvisational style.

: John Barron

It’s hard for a jazz musician to garner recognition in an era of music industry indifference toward unknown artists—and the genre as a whole. Musicians like Jim Pearce forge ahead anyway, producing uncompromised, original music. Never Open with a Ballad is a well-conceived showcase for the multi-talented Atlanta-based pianist, vocalist and composer.

Pearce delves into the piano with outstanding technique and a firm modern jazz conception. The beauty of Never Open with a Ballad, however, lies in Pearce’s composing. Covering an impressive array of grooves, his tunes combine hip changes, strong melodies and, refreshingly, a sense of humor. From the progressive nature of the brooding “Not This Not That,” the slippery 3/4 bounce of “Spectacular Orange Array,” the lively propulsion of “Cleebo’s Samba” and the bebop twists of “Debbie Marie,” Pearce presents well-developed themes that swing hard. “Clouded Canyon,” the closing track, stands out as the least swinging of all, yet is a beautiful, contemplative solo piano performance.

Pearce is more than willing to let the members of his ensemble, especially trumpeter Joe Gransden and saxophonist Eric South, take center stage throughout the session. Gransden patiently manipulates the middle range on “Barely Touching,” a harmonically clustered ballad with an overtly lush melody, and displays well conceived bebop lines on “Cleebo’s Samba.” South has a smooth tone with just the right amount of aggression to match the eclectic nature of Pearce’s music. His gutsy tenor breathes life into the title track, and his solo excursions on “More and More and More” and “Left Coast” are swinging and inventive. Bassist Herman Burney and drummer Paul Fallat shift stylistic gears effortlessly and provide a rock solid foundation.

Never Open with a Ballad is a delightful collection of modern jazz performed by an outstanding collective of sympathetic musicians who are truly deserving of wider recognition. Pearce proves himself a highly adept leader who approaches every aspect of his music with vision and integrity.

For original review, click here.

Jazz & Blues Tour Radio (The Netherlands) : Joost Van Steen

This is Spectacular, great CD—I already listened to it twice. what a great collection of tracks, musical skills and the surprise of Jim's vocals, quite an opener!! Again with the greatest pleasure will take this CD into extended airplay.

Radio Adelaide (Australia) : Peter Kuller

This is a reminder that there are a number of great musicians who deserve much wider recognition! Jim Pearce is one of them, his latest CD is proof of this. It is a very entertaining album and it is great jazz too! Thank you so much for sending it to me, will start playing the music in May and the months after.

Budette Bolden "Jazz Junkie"
(Amazon.com Customer Review)

Love all of Jim Pearce's albums, but love this one best—what energy! What pizzazz! GREAT band. Remember the days when song was king? Give a listen and you'll be transported. You'll laugh, you'll sing along, you'll remember what melody sounds like, what harmony can do, and how a song can lift you up. Wonderful.


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