The utility of music, at its very core, is entertainment. It is not all about dissonance and consonance, tonal conflict and resolution; heart and intellect, pathos and ethos. Somewhere in everything music has to offer, there must be a smile. It is in music's smile that vocalist Mark Winkler exists. An elegant West Coast mainstay, vocalist/lyricist/composer Winkler, drove across my radar first with his 2011 recording Sweet Spot (Café Pacific Records). I was struck by how well Winkler could skirt the orbit of con brio cabaret singing, with its fun, entertainment core, and remain completely fixed in his capacity of jazz singer and composer.
Winkler followed Sweet Spot with his bold 2013 release, The Laura Nyro Project (Café
Pacific Records). An exceptional duet recording with The Manhattan Transfer's Cheryl
Bentyne, West Coast Cool (Summit Records, 2013) came next, followed by the fun and
Winkler had a period of personal loss in 2016 that would have crushed lesser musical mortals. Rather than dwell in the loss, Winkler circled his wagons, and, by wagons I mean his friends, producing the present recording, The Company I Keep. The recording is tacitly a duets recording, where Winkler shares singing duties with the likes of Jackie Ryan "Walk Between the Raindrops" and Steve Tyrell "But It Still Ain't So." Sometimes the duets are with musicians: pianists David Benoit, Josh Nelson and Eric Reed join Winkler regular Jamison Trotter in providing the singer support. Add to this the contributions of reeds player Bob Sheppard and a picture is complete. With friends like that, how can one go wrong.
The recording, engineering, and sonics are exceptional, as well as the arrangements (mostly by Trotter). The project is composed of a a dozen pieces, half with lyrics composed by Winkler and half carefully selected by him and his cohorts. Beautifully, the "standards" (if you will) are not so standard. Donald Fagan's "Walk Between Raindrops," shared with Ryan and Prince's "Strollin'" shared with Cheryl Bentyne are pure genius in song selection. What is amply apparent is that Winkler is enjoying himself and his friends and vice versa. "Stolen Moments" with Claire Martin (using the late Mark Murphy's lyrics) and "Rainproof," sung with Sara Gazarek (this latter with Winkler lyrics) demonstrates Winkler's artistic resilience and determination.
Winkler's complete dedication to his friends is also expressed in the cover art, which includes West Coast dignitaries well known to our electronic pages (in no particular order): Lauren White, Jeffrey Gimble, Barbara Brighton, Andrew Abaria, Richard Winkler, Judy Wexler, and Dolores Scozzesi. Mark Winkler, I am so glad you (we) have them all.