Harry Skoler – A Work of Heart

A Work of HeartA Work of Heart
Harry Skoler
(Brownstone – 1999)
by John Barrett

How does Wes Montgomery influence a clarinetist? It was the strings: “There was a double album … with string arrangements of tunes like ‘Here’s That Rainy Day.’ I must have worn that album out.” That memory clung to Harry Skoler, and he wanted to make his own string album. For his arranger he picked Donn Trenner, who just finished a similar session with Paul Broadnax. The Montgomery analogy holds up: some charts sound like Wes’ album Fusion. For example, “Coisa Feita”: Skoler swings like Buddy DeFranco, while the setting grows. First a solitary French horn, then a guitar with Montgomery octaves. The strings come in simply, like a sonic blanket: nothing too lush, and still a beauty. The clarinet whistles through like an errant breeze – and just as swift.

He bubbles through “Portrait of Daniel”, a quiet waltz; the strings were recorded in triplicate, for an extra-thick sound. Harry’s notes seem hollow, almost like a wooden flute; Garrison Fewell answers with Burrell sweetness. “Sophisticated Yenta” was made for the ballroom: the staid symphonic intro leads to a delicate samba. Joe Lano has more twang than Fewell, and Harry is sweeter than normal, finding romance in the highest register. The mood throughout is light and lovely – simple thoughts, expressed with tenderness. And who can’t use that once in a while?

The reed is bolder when the strings are gone: you get longer solos and more vibrato. He skates on “Don’t Ever Go Away”, as Trenner spins some languid piano. “Estate” adds the vibes of Rich Margolis, who chimes as Harry trembles. His notes are woody, and seem fragile; the heart aches as Margolis pours stardust. Cherish the ending: an eternal low riff, repeated as percussion seeps in. Things really swing on “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” – a high trill and sunny vibes. What a creamy sound – he’s a fan of Goodman, and you can tell. Strings return on “Goodbye Mr. Evans”, a tribute to Bill written in 1980.Don’t call it a dirge: Harry’s on air, waltzing high as the strings embrace him. Trenner adds chords (in his style, not Bill’s) but it isn’t needed: you only hear Harry, and a budding romance. That’s what the disc is about, and that’s how it delivers. It’s a big sound, as befits a big heart.