Stephan Abel’s “The Windmills of your Mind” pays homage to the beauty and enduring charm of the jazz ballad. Covering eleven tunes carefully chosen by Abel himself, it includes standards written by Billy Strayhorn, Rogers and Hart, Carla Bley, Mal Waldron, and of course Michel Legrand who composed the well-known title track. Abel’s aim for this recording was to capture that eponymous late night jazz feel. He certainly succeeds.
Picture the scene: a small-town bar, 2am, most of the audience have found their way home and the remnants of the evening’s cigarettes and alcohol rest shamelessly on a few old tables. The smoke in the air drifts aimlessly across the room and the clink of whisky glasses can be heard coming from the bar. The last few remaining people look up as the band amble back on to the stage for just a few more numbers before calling it a night. The piano leads and the sax follows. The music is cool, smouldering, effortless. This is the jazz music of the night, the calm, sophisticated ballads that strike a chord in all of us; an echo or a memory of love won and lost, a distant yearning for the soul to shine brightly in melancholic beauty. This is the sound that “Windmills” captures.
Recorded over three nights in an intimate setting, the mood is consistent throughout the session. Abel is joined by his compatriots Buggy Braune, Olaf Casimir, Heinz Lichlus and special guest Ken Norris. Together they perform for us their slow, meandering, thoughtful music with aplomb.
The album opens with “Chelsea Bridge”, a lovely Billy Strayhorn tune, and this sets the tone for the whole session. Jimmy Rowles’ “Peacocks” provides some nice interplay and the title track itself includes a gorgeous sax solo that lifts the tune to a higher place. Ken Norris guests on three songs, his smooth, unforced vocals adding some variety to the proceedings. “Soul Eyes” is nicely paced and the mellow “The Party’s Over” brings the album to a close.
If the listener is looking for variation they will be disappointed, but if it’s a late night, mellow as mellow can be, easy listening chill-out that’s needed, then look no further.