The Drummer Loves Ballads

“The Shadows of Paris”

(Self Release)

On the surface, drummer John Armato’s full-length debut album may appear to be a collection of reimagined ballads written by or made famous by some of the world’s most acclaimed bandleaders. However, it doesn’t take long for one to realize that the self-released The Drummer Loves Ballads is much more than that. The hint is in its prelude, one of the program’s three spoken-word tracks through which Armato provides an autobiographical narrative arc highlighting his connection with the art of the ballad. It’s also worth mentioning that the sole original composition, “At the Trocadero,” the most personal piece on the album, is a song commemorating a now-forgotten jazz club in Kansas City that was a favorite destination for Armato’s parents when they were dating.

Another hint, of course, is in the album’s title. Its premise is fulfilled by Armato’s beautiful arrangements, often marrying wide-ranging influences and giving new meaning to the cliché “breathing new life into well-worn standards.” Take, for instance, his version of Henry Mancini’s passionate tale of illicit love, “The Shadows of Paris,” from the 1962 film A Shot in the Dark. Here, Armato’s chiaroscuro arrangement enhances the emotional charge of the original piece with the melancholic charge of Johannes Brahms, while occasionally nodding to the vintage Parisian jazz scene of the fabled days of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli with tasteful flourishes. Elsewhere, his version of Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana” utilizes an even more radical approach by reimagining the famous original as a shuffle. Examples are countless and additional facts and stories behind each of the tracks on The Drummer Loves Ballads can be found on a web site that Armato has created especially for this release.

At the core of the project is a quartet that is occasionally complemented by lush string and wind arrangements provided by Paul Roberts. The sweeping orchestral arrangements are performed by more than 25 musicians, including jazz greats Houston Person and Warren Vaché. Vocalists Lisa Henry and Lucy Wijnands are also featured — the latter’s sultry vocals are heard on “The Shadows of Paris.” “Passion,” “romance” and “midnight” are some of the words that come to mind upon listening to The Drummer Loves Ballads. Armato manages to evoke the warmth of classical jazz recordings, while maintaining the clarity of contemporary sound.

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