We are drawn to certain recordings because of the bandleader (Parker and Monk come to mind) while the attraction of others is tied to the band as much as to the leader (some of Miles’s later offerings would qualify here.) Guitarist Harold Fethe’s debut recording belongs to the latter category. A resident of the San Francisco area, Fethe offers this compendium of standards and a single original after years of study with a string of Bay area musicians. Despite the fact that this is his first outing as a leader, however, Fethe is no mere youth. As the liner notes to this CD state, the recording marks his return to music after a 25 year hiatus in which he served as an executive in the Biotech industry.
Joining Fethe are veterans Johnny Frigo on violin and Joe Vito on piano/accordion. Both turn in outstanding performances that are simultaneously a plus and minus for Fethe as a leader. While the excellence of Frigo and Vito makes this recording more than worth the price, their status as accomplished veterans often seems to relegate Fethe to the role of a sideman on his own date. Although, as stated above, Fethe is no beginner, his contribution tends to pale slightly when juxtaposed with the soaring improvisations of these accomplished statesmen.
Nevertheless, this CD has many things going for it. The ensemble of guitar, violin and accordion often featured here provide a delightfully lush sound that approaches the exotic delight of tango master Astor Piazzolla’s finer ensembles. Outside of the feisty original that Fethe contributes (a tangoesque ballad titled "Cuenca Mercado,") standout tunes include a mischievous "Take the A Train" in waltz time and a sensuous cover of Leon Russell’s "This Masquerade" featuring smoky-voiced singer Joanie Pallatto (hopefully we’ll hear more from her in the future.) Bassist Jim Cox turns in a solid performance to round out the ensemble sound that makes this one worth the investment.