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Too Much Coffee Man (2000)

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Billy Hart

There's no decaf on Too Much Coffee Man, Bob Dorough's second album for Blue Note. But there is plenty of bouquet, flavor, and remarkable stylistic diversity. Dorough is 76, idiosyncratic, goofy, and creative. He worked with Miles Davis decades ago; he's also worked with Blossom Dearie, Art Farmer, and John Zorn. Dorough's voice is nasal, penetrating, and conversational; the way he stretches a tune to maximize its impact and his obvious camaraderie with technically dizzying players such as Phil Woods, Ray Drummond, Billy Hart and Jamey Haddad is exceptional in its naturalness. A natural all the way, Dorough is as authoritative on love ballads such as "There's Never Been a Day" as on novelty songs, like Dave Frishberg's "Oklahoma Toad." But it's not his style alone that's so striking, it's his sensibility. Dorough has been many emotional places and is eager to tell their stories. At times, his attitude evokes Randy Newman, and his eclecticism suggests a more worldly, slightly more commercial Van Dyke Parks. Dorough is energetic. Check the way he effortlessly integrates samba into the cutting "Marilyn" (a relative of Dylan's "Leopardskin Pillbox Hat"). Despite his debonair delivery, he also can transmit deep emotion. Perhaps the best example is "Where Is the Song?," one of the meditations on transience that mark the latter half of this notable album. Here, Dorough negotiates a tricky rhythm, stepping between the stones of a marvelous Woods obbligato as the rhythm section underlines his storyline of missed, yearned-for connections. The album ends with "Late in the Century," Dorough's nosegay to the late, lamented 19th century. It's a plea for patience and tolerance, replete with Hammond B3, a sweet chorus, and Dorough's rubato piano. The tune looks backward and forward, like Dorough himself. ~ Carlo Wolff