C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz

It would be hard to identify a more fitting musical talent whom to honor than Fred Rogers. Chicago-area vocalist Keri Johnsrud joins forces with a piano trio led by pianist Kevin Bales with the rhythm section of bassist and vocalist Billy Thornton and drummerMarlon Patton. The repertoire is all of Fred Rogers, who, for 35 years, hosted the children’s television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhoodwhere all of these compositions were originally premiered. That said, this is not your parent’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood music. Johnsrud and Bales have re-arranged, if not completely re- imagined these pieces, injecting them with some potent contemporary musical thought into the mix. These interpretations are at once demanding and familiar. “It’s You I Like” is given a forward-thinking treatment with a propelling introduction that pushes Johnsrud to sing with robust gusto. Bales’ adds a complexity to the head and harmony of the song that demands the listener sit up and pay attention while swing hard enough to cause a nosebleed. On the other end of the rhythmic spectrum is “When the Day Turns Into Night,” taken as a beautiful ballad that turns Johnsrud wistfully introspective. There is a lot of smart jazz made. But there is little jazz this smart…or fun!

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