First Things First
(ViRuth – 2001)
by Dick Bogle
Mario DePriest is rapidly carving a unique niche in the realm of male jazz singers. First off, DePriest is blessed with a resonant baritone voice and excellent range. Much in the fading tradition of a Johnny Hartman or an Arthur Prysock, DePriest swims upstream against the current tide of African American male singers who opt for a far less masculine sound.
For example, he takes on an obscure haunting ballad called “Sack Full Of Dreams” and does it so well it makes one wonder why it’s obscure. Trumpeter Thara Memory is at his warmest and creative best as he both accompanies and solos here. Jof Lee’s piano is an equally good fit.
But vocal timbre and range are only half the DePriest story on this release. Utilizing his poetic talents, he creates lyrics for tunes already meriting an instrumental place of honor. “Caught By a Certain Attitude,” a James Williams composition is one given a sparkling new DePriest lyric. Tenorist Javon Jackson also guests on the cut as does Memory.
The other tune for which DePriest wrote lyrics is “It’s Basically Simple,” written by pianist Donald Brown. On the Wayne Shorter classic “Footprints,” DePriest sings existing lyrics but, again uses the vocalese style so well as to place him in rare company with the few others this capable. Akbar DePriest, Mario’s father, is heard on drums, laying down a unique and hypnotic rhythm which ties it all together.
In addition to Javon Jackson, imported from New York for the session, and stalwart Memory, DePriest is joined by reedist Rob Scheps, drummers Mel Brown, guitarist Dan Balmer, bassist Frank De La Rosa and pianist Lee.
Reprinted with kind permission of The Skanner.