A veteran first-call musician and leader of many bands who has also shared the stage with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Mel Torme, power drummer Les DeMerle's fourth album on the Origin label, Cookin' at the Corner, Volume One, was recorded live at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, South Carolina in 2005. DeMerle and crew deliver a swinging performance of jazz vocals and instrumentals music, playing thirteen classic standards packaged in between two original tunes.
The album is, in large part, a collaboration between vocalist Bonnie Eisele, who sings up a storm, and the DeMerle band. Besides the drummer, the band features bassist Ricky Ravelo and the amazing Mike Levine, who gives an incredible performance over the two nights recorded. Although essentially performing as a light combo (trio and vocalist), on this live session, the music often sounds as if it's being played by a medium ensemble.
The concert begins with Levine's swinging title cut, setting the pace for the rest of the set. Levine, who is wonderful through out, dishes out another superlative performance as the leader powers through Rodgers/Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring." DeMerle provides the vocals on "Bennie's From Heaven," a jazzy tune with very funny lyrics.
DeMerle steps up and delivers a power performance on the drums on the Neal Hefti standard "Cute." Eisele makes her entrance with Ellington's "Satin Doll/ Don't Get Around Much Anymore," where she proceeds to blow the house down. The band then turns south, playing Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Agua De Beber," a sensational light samba elegantly voiced by Eisele.
The singer leads the band, providing a warm voice to a host of beautiful songs among them, "Stardust," "What A Difference A Day Makes," and the immortal "The Shadow of Your Smile." Eisele and DeMerle share the vocals on the very hip arrangement of "The More I See You." The concerts wrap up with two other familiar tunes--"Compared To What" and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid"--and Levine's finale, "I Do Love You," an absolutely gorgeous slow love ballad that is all Levine on the piano.
This is one of the best live recordings that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. With excellent song selection and interpretations of classics, Cookin' at the Corner, Volume One captures two exciting evenings of swinging music and inspired solo performances by DeMerle, Levine and vocalist Eisele. I am looking forwards with anticipation to Volume Two.