The Wisconsin-bred Hefko, a graduate of the University of New Orleans’ Jazz Studies program, commands your attention with his latest album, Distillations of the Blues.
Serving as executive producer, Hefko also sings and plays tenor sax, clarinet and acoustic guitar on this swinging set(on which he wrote 10 of the 11 compositions). The sole cover, “Hesitation Blues,” is a traditional tune (arranged here by Hefko) that opens the album with a blissful Dixieland strut complete with stellar guitar picking. A Grant Green–esque grace also imbues the guitar parts on the instrumental “Champion Jack.”
Recorded partially in New York City and partially in New Orleans at Marigny Studios, the rotating cast of Thousandaires shines as well—particularly Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown’s trumpet and Dalton Ridenhour’s ragtime piano on “I’ve Got a Right to Carry On.” But the star attraction here is Hefko’s showcase of multi-instrument prowess: The dirge-like reverence that closes “I Don’t Feel Welcome Here” and hypnotic clarinet expertly executed in “Butterfly Dreamin’” stand out.
The CD also delivers introspective lyricism with a cabaret swagger, capturing a range of emotion from the “falling under” narrative of “Adam and the Devil” to the dogged hope of “One More Distillation of the Blues.” This last has a triumphant refrain we could all stand to sing: “I only need look above/ When I have lost my way/ To be guided by my lucky stars again.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review referred to Ted Hefko as a student at the University of New Orleans. He is a graduate of the university.