Kenny Rankin - vocals, nylon string guitar; Wendy Haas - keyboards; Peter Marshall- bass; Roy McCurdy - drums
As a child living in the multicultural melting pot of New York City's Washington Heights, Kenny Rankin was exposed to a wide range of musical influences firsthand, from the popular sounds of American Top 40 hits and Jazz to the more culturally exotic fare of Brazilian and AfroCuban street musicians. As a teenager, Rankin began applying all these influences to his own music and began establishing himself as an insightful songwriter, a gifted acoustic guitarist and above all, an undeniably compelling world-class vocalist. With his supple, pristine tenor and an uncanny knack for phrasing, Rankin possessed the ability to cut right to a song's emotional heart with a voice much like a musical instrument in and of itself.
In the early 1960s, Rankin initially signed with Decca Records, releasing several obscure singles. By the middle of the decade, the more prestigious Columbia Records label signed Rankin, where he found himself playing guitar on the sessions for Bob Dylan's pivotal Bringing It All Back Home album. His first significant public exposure occurred soon thereafter, when he was invited to perform on The Tonight Show. The shows' host, Johnny Carson, was so smitten by Rankin's talent that he would invite him to perform on the show more than 20 times during the late 1960s. Carson would even contribute liner notes to his 1967 debut album, Mind Dusters. In 1972, Rankin signed with his third label, Little David Records, distributed through Atlantic Records and it was the initial release, Like A Seed, that began revealing the true depth of his talent.
Despite his impressive creative credentials and television exposure, it wasn't until nearly a decade later that Rankin would be fully appreciated beyond his musical peers. Over the course of his albums, Like a Seed, Inside, and most notably, 1975's Silver Morning, Rankin achieved a new level of artistry, as his folk tinge gave way to a jazzier, more polished style that was flawless in execution and incredibly emotive. Silver Morning also revealed that Rankin had developed into a master scat singer and his repertoire had become far more diverse, featuring originals and a wide range of covers that could be beautiful, haunting, or humorous, without a weak track to be found. Defying any clear-cut classification, Rankin had truly become a world-class jazz vocalist and a gifted pop artist, while retaining his introspective singer/songwriter credibility. All of these elements finally came together in the most cohesive way on his 1976 release, The Kenny Rankin Album, where he collaborated with a 60-piece string orchestra, conducted by Don Costa, a legendary arranger, well respected for his work with Frank Sinatra. Recorded live in the studio over the course of just three days, this album would be universally acknowledged as Rankin's masterpiece and remains the pinnacle of his recording career to this day.
All of which makes this recording infinitely fascinating to Kenny Rankin fans. Recorded at Boston's Paul's Mall after the release of Silver Morning and just a few months prior to the release of The Kenny Rankin album, this performance literally captures Rankin closing in on that peak moment of his highly impressive recording career. Performing with the same core band that featured on The Kenny Rankin Album, this is an absolute delight. In addition to Rankin's highly engaging voice and nylon string guitar playing, this ensemble also features the talents of former Fanny keyboardist Wendy Haas, the extraordinary bass playing of Peter Marshall (who had graced recordings by Gabor Szabo and Art Farmer, among many others) and is anchored by Cannonball Adderly's longtime drummer, Roy McCurdy. Although the performance is free of Costa's lush string arrangements, these performances are consistently remarkable and Rankin has never sounded better than he does right here. This Boston performance immediately followed a weeklong residency at New York City's Bottom Line, so both Rankin and the group are fully primed and in excellent form throughout.
The performance begins with Rankin alone, singing a lovely romantic version of John Sebastian's "She's A Lady." The band joins in as this segues directly into "In The Name Of Love," one of the key tracks from Silver Morning. The propulsion of the band and Rankin's voice glide along most impressively as they warm up before the intimate Boston audience. Over the course of the next hour or so, Rankin delivers a remarkably compelling set sourced from much of the best material from his Little David label releases. From 1972's Like A Seed, Rankin delivers two beautiful originals, including the title song and his much covered pop standard, "Peaceful," as the encore. With a few notable exceptions, the remainder of the set focuses on the material from Inside and Silver Morning, his two finest albums at this point in time. From the former, Rankin and crew treat the audience to exemplary performances of Jimi Hendrix's "Up From The Skies," Stevie Wonder's "Creepin," Randy Newman's uncharacteristically romantic "Marie," as well as the lovely "Lost Up In Loving You." These songs display Rankin's truly incredible interpretive abilities on a wide-ranging scope of material.
As impressive as all the aforementioned performances are, fans will likely be most delighted by the additional material from "Silver Morning" included in this set: The title track, the Brazilian "Birembau" (featuring a brief intro of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man"), and a truly gorgeous pairing of "You Are So Beautiful" (just prior to The Kenny Rankin Album sessions) with Rankin's reworking of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird." These are simply phenomenal performances, but Rankin saves one of the greatest tracks from Silver Morning for the set closer. A brief "Pretty Brown Eyes" gives way to a superb reading of "Haven't We Met" that reaches for the stratosphere. The performance is impeccable and it's easy to see why this song would easily cross generational barriers, soon to be recorded by a number of jazz and pop artists, from Mel Torme to Carmen McRae.
This live recording provides ample evidence that Kenny Rankin is a consummate artist, blessed with a voice of unparalleled versatility. Whether one is familiar with Rankin's wide ranging repertoire or not, this performance contains such an abundance of beautiful, fluid performances that it would be difficult for any listener not to be completely swept away.