Album review: Barry Velleman/Harvie S. — Something Wonderful (RVS Records)
Barry Velleman should ring a bell, oh man—if you’re a Milwaukee jazz fan of a certain age.
The pianist credibly served as one of the house pianists at the legendary Milwaukee Jazz Gallery in the late ‘70s- early ‘80s. His performance and recording credits include Brian Lynch (who considers him a primary influence), Jerry Bergonzi, Phil Grenadier, Charles Davis, Gerald Cannon, Chuck Hedges, Jamie Breiwick, Eric Jacobson, Jerry Grillo and renowned bassist Harvie S, whom he’s known since high school. He’s one of my personal favorite interpreters of Thelonious Monk. After retiring as a Spanish professor at Marquette U., Velleman moved back to his home area near Boston.
Something Wonderful lives up to its title. As an appreciator of the pianist’s acerbic wit with Monk, the revelation for me was (perhaps I’d forgotten) his seeming effortlessness at lyrical playing. So, there’s plenty of musical meat, yet the album is a natural mood brightener.
Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch (left) considers pianist Barry Velleman (far right) a primary influence on him. This quartet photo includes Lynch, Velleman, bassist Chuck Ledvina and saxophonist David Bixler.
In his new biography, piano master Brad Mehldau speaks of the “unapproachable yet inviting” quality of certain great jazz pianists. You get that sense with Velleman, at times wondering at his wizardry, and its off-handedness. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” bristles with characteristically pungent chords without overdoing it. He uses his chords like a painter adding depth and texture to his aural landscapes. There I go again, about his harmonies. Maybe there’s a song in his heart, or he understands harmony so well he can turn improvs into lovely melody by mining the structural essence.
A surprise is the seemingly cornball “Lollipops and Roses,” which he transforms with a cool intro and a medium-slow tempo, allowing the melody space to breathe, a very hip story of “What if? What about this?” Bassist Harvie S is superb throughout, but really shines by taking the arco melodic lead on the closer “Remind Me,” an underplayed Jerome Kern song.
This review was originally published in The Shepherd Express, here: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/something-wonderful-by-barry-velleman-and-harvie-s/