Tommy Schneller – Cream of the Crop (Cable Car)

cream2011’s ‘Smiling for a Reason’ won it’s share of awards in the jazz and blues categories, including 14th place on the American ‘Living Blues’ Radio Chart.  Can Tommy Schneller’s new CD match that – or even better it.  Could it indeed be the ‘Cream of the Crop’?

The opener certainly doesn’t set the style for the rest to come.  ‘Hands in the Air’ is cool and mellow with just the perfect chocolate coated vocal,  a stunner to open and barely a sax or trumpet in earshot.  A better taster for the disc overall is track two.  ‘She’s so good to me’ is bold and, literally,  brassy.  It has that measured raunch found on ‘You can leave your hat on’ – a number that would be perfect for the jazz with a wink light hearted style that Tommy Schneller does so well.

Schneller with Freischlader behind the music-  onstage this time

Schneller with Freischlader behind the music- onstage this time

By track three it’s like the disc is a train picking up speed.  From the slow bluesy opener, through the mid-paced punchy follow up to the chug-along title track and ‘Cream of the Crop’ has all that big band magic of old – I can almost see Tommy flanked by a huge band with ‘TS’ logos on every podium and red crushed velvet curtains.  Bring me a whiskey, on the rocks, and one of those dinky little cocktails for my lady, on the house naturally.

‘Super Hero’ shows that Schneller is not just a super sax man but also has the eye for a cutting, well written lyric:

 “Batman says he’s busy, Peter Parker got classes too. 
Me, I’ve got no super strength , but I know just what to do
–           I’m a superhero”

Next up, ‘Ain’t no Maybe’ has a busy and funky bass backbeat courtesy of Henrik Freischlader.  Very much ‘in yer face’ stylistically and a cool trombone solo courtesy of Dieter Kuhlmann.

Track six, ‘Isn’t it New’ has something 60’s style about it, with a catchy intro and equally catchy duet vocal shared with Henrik, who also puts in some gloriously warm toned guitar to the mix.  They’re obviously enjoying the groove and maybe that’s why it goes on a bit too long for my taste.  But why stop when you got a good thing going?

‘You’re somebody else’ continues with Henrik’s super cool jazz guitar groove and a mellower than mellow Tommy wallowing in self-pity to the benefit of us all.  Just when you think he can’t get any deeper down the sax solo begins and reminds me that there’s been far too little of it thus far and the disc is almost through.  Feel free to get down and lonely anytime Tommy:

‘It doesn’t seem like you are interested in blaming yourself,
So here I am,
You’re somebody else’

Mr Freischlader kicks’What did I do’ off with his funky guitar before he too is kicked off by even funkier horns.  He gets the last laugh though with a loud and insistent bass riff that punches along majestically.  It rocks enough for Henrik to even put his Les Paul through its paces to good effect later on.  No sleeping to this one folks.  There’s even some super Hammond organ to add the final ‘cream’ to the broth from Gregory Barrett.

At the Harmonie with Gregory Barrett on the keys

At the Harmonie with Gregory Barrett on the keys

Higher & Higher’ again sees Freischlader showing his chops as an axeman but the horns on this one steal the show in the end.  “Free your mind and you see your ass will follow”… wise words indeed.

So sadly we’re at the end of an excellent disc, and naturally we have the Blues.  Henrik and Tommy are just the right men to guide us out with ‘You don’t seem to care’.   Tommy’s sad phrasing and Henrik’s sad minor keys, add a sad horn section, and it’s heartache time.  Until the next Tommy Schneller CD comes around at least.

An excellent follow up to it’s predecessor.  ‘Cream of the Crop’ should arguably be a Tommy Schneller/Henrik Freischlader disc.  The Cable Car owner is all over it from writing credits, through multi-instrumentalist, back vocals and even production and Schneller’s saxophone doesn’t get a lot to do, which is a pity.  His vocals are right on the nail though and those horn arrangements by trumpeter Gary Winters shine.   Wisely, the final mixing and mastering has been left to Martin Meinschäfer so an extra pair of ears were involved.   I have no reason to doubt that this disc will not be as successful as the last or that the next one, if it has a little more sax, will be even better.  Schneller and Freischlader are a match made in jazz heaven.

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