It would be difficult to find a more versatile musician than the multi-instrumentalist Tom Ranier. The veteran studio musician has performed in high profile events such as the Grammys, Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Gloves and has performed with many high profile jazz and pop stars. These activities keep him so busy, that he rarely has time to make a studio album. This Way is his first in 14 years, his fifth overall. Unlike many of his studio session peers, Ranier is a strong composer too, as evidenced by his six originals, of the eight that appear here where he plays piano, synthesizer, and dizzying array of woodwinds from soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxes (all of the saxes) and three clarinets – Bb, bass, and contra-alto. Joining him are bassist Trey Henry (Natalie Cole, Linda Ronstadt, Quincy Jones), drummer Ralph Humphrey (Don Ellis, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau), and guitarist Tom Rotella (Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Stanley Turrentine).
Rainer is also an accomplished photographer and his music is designed to evoke visual imagery, especially the opening two pieces which are keyboard-based – layered and textural. Ranier will be publishing two books of his photography and is working on an online project that combines photography with music. He is a huge fan of The Brecker Brothers who inspired much of the music on the album although he first nods to drummer Humphrey on “Yes Kloose” as his piano (some acoustic, some electric) is out front against a symphonic backdrop of synths. Kloose is a nickname that was given to the drummer when working on “Dancing With the Stars” and it is written in the unusual signature of 7/4 – easily mastered by Humphrey.
The direct link to the Brecker Brothers is “Sacred Heart,” co-written by Randy Brecker and Elaine Elias. It’s a tribute to Michael Brecker, who recorded a soprano solo on the Brecker Brothers recording of the tune. Ranier transcribed the solo and, in addition to soprano, added a host of clarinets. “Trio Vision” retreats to the said format, giving Henry a chance to display his bass chops. “Rhapsody” was orchestrated by Bruce Healey, who was responsible for every musical production by the Disneyland Entertainment Division since 1986. The well-known Jobim piece, “Desfinado” closes, performed also in 7/4 and featuring a soli of four clarinets and a bass clarinet.
Even though Ranier is well respected for his woodwind prowess, This Way has keyboards as its prevalent feature, with mostly soothing, contemplative, visual imagery inducing music. It’s rather interesting to note The Brecker Brothers influence as Ranier’s music never approaches that kind of loud, funky, inspired jazz-rock fusion. In fact, Ranier is on the opposite end of that scale with his highly textured, layered sound.
- Jim Hynes