Kevin Mahogany's third and final Enja recording (before moving on to Warner Bros.) was his finest and a very definitive set. More jazz-oriented than his first Warner Bros. set, this program matches Mahogany's attractive voice with pianist James Williams (who contributed the tune "Old Times Sake"), bassist Micheal Formanek, drummer Victor Lewis and guest tenor Benny Golson. Singer Jeanie Bryson helps out on the opening "Baby You Got What It Takes," making one wish that the two vocalists would team up more often. Other highlights include Quincy Jones' classic "Stockholm Sweetnin'," "Route 66" (which has some creative scatting by Mahogany), the brief "Yardbird Suite" and "BG's Groove." Throughout this date, Kevin Mahogany (formerly a saxophonist who obviously knows music well) shows just how strong a jazz singer he can be.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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If I hadn't seen the whole process unfold before my very eyes, I'd have a hard time believing that Kevin Mahogany and all the good company in which he moves here were able to record this entire album in a single afternoon. Nor would I find it easily plausible that he was all cooped up inside a tiny isolation booth while he sang.
Even with all the logistics and technical necessities of studio recording, the whole scene was as comfortably down-home as a church picnic on a springtime Sunday afternoon, with the music coming as good news to be shared among members of the congregation and visitors alike. Mahogany asked the same question after most every take: "How did that feel?"
Well, in a word, it felt GOOD.
It's a feeling that reaches in and grabs you by the soul. Mahogany's music comes from - and speaks to - the heart. Only so much (and not all that much) can be mapped out in advance, and the rest, including the inspiration, has to happen in the moment of creation.
This is unique to jazz, most especially to jazz singing. It is possible only when the churchyard and the roadhouse are next-door neighbors on good terms with one another. Over the years, that's been an issue for a lot of folks, with many trying to put up all sorts offences between the two. What Mahogany is up to transcends all of that, straddling any fence that might be there with enough clearance to plant his feet firmly on both sides. He knows the human condition is not an either/or proposition, and for him the coexistence is more than peaceful. It is down-right prosperous.
His reverence toward Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday is as great as for scriptures and testaments of much longer historical standing. Mahogany takes great delight in drawing on all his sources to extend the tradition of jazz singing with a very personal approach of freedom within the discipline he so obviously loves. He doesn't always make it sound easy, but he sure lets it sound natural, whether he's keeping to some lyrics or scatting. From a technical standpoint, he's got it all, and he knows when to use what.
Sight unseen, a lot of people (including Elvin Jones) have assumed Mahogany to be older than his 37 years. Maybe that's because he started paying in on his professional dues at age 12, playing baritone sax in his home town of Kansas City with Eddie Baker's New Breed Jazz Orchestra. When he first sang in public, as a high school senior, it was a pragmatic decision: to ' qualify for a church scholarship open to baritone singers but not to baritone saxophonists. He won. One of the judges was his church choir's director, whose first question was: "Why didn't you come around here sooner?" Indeed.
Maybe making that riqht was onn of hie; inspirations in starting a jazz choir while studying at Baker University, which he followed with graduate work in Texas. After all that formal schooling, Mahogany continued his education in the finest Kansas City tradition of playing out in the territories, teaming up with the Bob Nell / Kelly Roberty / Brad Evans trio. He stuck by his muse long and truly enough to meet up with producer Matthias Winckelmann, who has made sure that everything on record since is ENJA history.
Mahogany has earnestly earned it all, coming up through the ranks in a way to pass muster with the likes of one of his artistic godfathers, Jon Hendricks, and one of my own, Whitney Balliett (who dubbed Mahogany "The Baronial Baritone"). Those are authoritative references, but don't take their word on Him: listen for yourself.
Mahogany is a man who revels in finding new ways to put the jazz puzzle together, and he's generous in sharing the wealth. . He still seems surprised not only by how well things have worked out for him, but also by how much those who hear his music are moved by it.
May it always be so. Few surprises are as heartening as Kevin Mahogany's music, and it's the kind of good news that's always hardest to come by. He's definitely got what it takes.
-W. Patrick Hinely