The Musicians of Joseph Decuis
by Jason Hoffman
For some time, the name Joseph Decuis has been associated with world-class dining in Roanoke’s historic downtown. With the release of The Musicians of Joseph Decuis, the name can also be applied to world-class musicianship.
Featuring area musicians whose jazz is frequently heard at the restaurant, this disc contains 12 traditional jazz standards performed in a contemporary style, all expertly recorded and mixed at Sweetwater Productions in Fort Wayne.
According to the restaurant’s music director, Kevin Piekarski, the intent of this album is “to use jazz — a unique form of American musical creativity — in a manner that is consistent with Joseph Decuis’ artful presentation.” Even a quick listen through the tracks reveals that they have succeeded, presenting classic selections in a refreshing and contemporary style, much like the creative menu of Joseph Decuis.
The opening track, Victor Young’s “Stella By Starlight,” clocks in at 9:42, which gives each musician great opportunity to flex his musical muscles. With Jim Steel on piano, Rick Brown on sax (who is also a member of the classic oldies mainstay Junkyard Band and also plays flute and clarinet on this album), guitarist George Ogg, Fort Wayne Philharmonic member Piekarski on bass and Doug Laughlin on drums, the collective amount of talent boggles the mind. A classic George and Ira Gershwin song, “A Foggy Day,” drops the guitar, adds Dan Piekarski on piano and sets up a pleasant swing groove which allows Rick Brown the chance to provide some scorching clarinet solos.
As three pianists perform on the album, each gets a moment in the spotlight with a solo piece. Showing why he was chosen as the best local keyboard player in the 2001 Whammy Award voting, Steel plays “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” with a wicked boogie-woogie bass line and a style so intense and full that you won’t have a chance to miss the other musicians. Huntington College instructor Eric Clancy struts his stuff with “A Time For Love,” a gentle, romantic piece that sounds like two lovers having a quiet dinner, sharing memories of their long past together. Showcasing the unique piano style he developed while playing professionally under the name “Danny Baker,” Dan Piekarski presents “My Funny Valentine” by Rodgers and Hart, a sorrowful piece that is nearly classical in scope and development. Upbeat and energetic, “Oleo” sports a jaw-dropping bass solo (and jaw-dropping piano, sax, and drum solos) while “I Got It Bad” finds the guitar and flute taking turns at the melody in this light, fun walk through the park. The album closes with a very nice, albeit short, acoustic guitar solo piece whose name is longer than the piece itself, but here goes: “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.”
While I suppose you can listen to this CD while eating your store-brand boxed macaroni and cheese, it won’t make it taste like the elegant cuisine found at Joseph Decuis. What these 12, expertly arranged and performed pieces will do, however, is make you proud that these extremely talented musicians call northern Indiana home. Available at Joseph Decuis in Roanoke.
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