Wednesday, August 08, 2018

E.J. Decker Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project

E.J. Decker
Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project
Candela Records

Vocalist Decker pays tribute to one of his major influences, Arthur Prysock on this new release that is devoted to the music of one who Decker terms an "underrepresented, underserved artist." Singing is in Decker's blood and his father replaced Frank Sinatra in the Tommy Dorsey Band, although his father's musical career dried up and he opened up a luncheonette where a young E.J. worked there and would turn the dial away from his father’s preferred mature fare (WNEW) toward current rock and pop stations. But it was while closing up one day with WNEW on and he heard Prysock and he recalled that “this deep voice came up and scared the crap out of me, …” Decker has had a lengthy singing career including working on the folk and rock circuit.

Prysock had a deep baritone and first came up with Buddy Johnson's Band with whom he had his first hits in the latter half of the forties. Later, he recorded as a solo artist for Old Town and Verve through the ’60s. He later was known in the 70's a series of iconic TV ads for Löwenbräu beer and even had a disco hit with Gamble & Huff’s “When Love Is New.” Stephen Holden, in his Prysock obituary for The New York Times, described the singer’s “silky growl, with its careworn texture and tone of pillow-talk intimacy.” It was the late Mark Murphy, briefly a teacher of Decker’s, who urged him to undertake a Prysock project. “I mentioned Prysock and Mark lit up,” Decker says. “He understood that nobody had done a proper tribute, …"

On this tribute Decker is joined by a versatile band that includes baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, trombonist Elizabeth Frascoia, pianist Les Kurtz, guitarist Chris Bergson, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito. The recording includes Prysock hits, both well-known standards and songs that only he recorded. But it also includes songs Prysock did not record: Cole Porter’s “Why Can’t You Behave,” the Gershwins’ “He Loves and She Loves,” Lerner & Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live.” “On these,” Decker muses, “I found I was taking the same approach that I heard him take, that in essence he taught me. Though he never sang them himself, they still fit right in.”

Decker, like Prysock, is primarily a balladeer and crooner, although his phrasing suggests at times Elvis Presley as well as Prysock. I found this on the opening "You Had Better Change Your Ways." Here as elsewhere the backing is exquisite with pianist Kurtz being a most sympathetic accompanist while guitarist Bergson plays fleetly behind him. Clare Daly's rhapsodic baritone sax, as well as Bergson's chording and single note fills, add to the pleasure of "Autumn in New York" and the easy swinging arrangement of "What a Difference a Day Makes." Daly's solos are superb. Trombonist Frascoia opens "Blue Velvet" and provides a appealing soft growling counter to Decker's ballad mastery.

Ella Johnson did the original recording of her brother Buddy's classic, "Since I Fell For You," but it became part of Prysock's repertoire. Decker's rendition here is akin to Lenny Welch's pop hit with more superb solos from Daly and Bergson. There is marvelous interplay between guitarist Bergson and trombonist Frascoia on a strong blues performance, "Its Too Late Baby Too Late." Among the songs Prysock did not record, Gershwin's "He Loves and She Loves" has a solid, swinging vocal with outstanding solos from Kurtz on piano and Daly on baritone sax, while a lovely rendition of "When I Fall in Love," opens as a duet with Zain who initially plays Arco, before Kurtz and Melito (on brushes) join. Zaid's walking bass line helps begin "On The Street Where You Live," with the rhythm section playing splendidly.

With the backing throughout from a superb band and guests (Clare Daly especially impresses), E.J. Decker has certainly put forth a worthy tribute that hopefully will restore Arthur Prysock to his place in musical history.

I received a download to review from from a publicist. Here he sings "What a Difference a Day Makes." from a CD release party.

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