Saturday, June 29, 2013

Music Review: Christian McBride and Inside Straight - People Music

This article was first published at Blogcritics

People Music, the title of bassist Christian McBride and Inside Straight’s follow up to their debut album Kind of Brown, refers to what McBride calls his “personal mantra as a musician.” Now is a time when some jazz musicians have become so concerned with pushing the envelope that they have pushed beyond the post office’s ability to deliver the mail to anyone but other jazz musicians, and sometimes not even them. Their music has become what one 19th century poet called “the dialogue of the mind with itself.” “People music” is music that speaks to the people. A degree in music theory is not a requirement for its enjoyment. All that’s needed are ears.

What you get on this album is mainstream, hard driving jazz played with passion and consummate musicianship. It doesn’t reject the past. It uses it. In the best traditions of the form, it builds on what has gone before. It is accessible music. If what you want is esoteric cacophony, you don’t want People Music. If you want beautiful innovative jazz, you’re in the right place.

The eight pieces on the album are all original compositions by members of the quintet. Four are by McBride. The album opens with his “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” written, he tells us in reaction to a music awards show which he found more concerned with image than with music. “It made me wonder what Duke Ellington or John Coltrane or Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn would think if they could see this. I think they would be crying.” “New Hope’s Angel” was written in reaction to the death of Whitney Houston and “Fair Hope Theme” is an extension of the main theme McBride wrote for the soundtrack of the documentary The Contradiction of Fair Hope. His dramatically driven “The Movement Revisited” drawn from a larger Civil Rights themed suite is the longest piece on the set.
“Gang Gang,” written by vibes player Warren Wolf, is an Afro-Cuban track. Saxophonist Steve Wilson’s haunting “Ms. Angelou” features the composer playing the soprano sax. Christian Sands, who plays piano on two tracks composed “Dream Train” and pianist Peter Martin wrote the funky “Unusual Suspects.” Carl Allen plays drums on everything but “Dream Train” and “Listen to the Heroes Cry” where drums are handled by Ulysses Owens, Jr.

If what McBride was aiming at was audience friendly music, he got it, but perhaps more importantly he also got audience pleasing music. This is the kind of music you want to listen to, and you’ll want to listen to it again and again.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Music Review: Deborah Shulman - Get Your Kicks: The Music and Lyrics of Bobby Troup

This article was first published at Blogcritics

If all you know about the music of Bobby Troup is his “Route 66” road saga and the kittenish “Daddy,” songstress Deborah Shulman’s latest album, Get Your Kicks: The Music and Lyrics of Bobby Troup, will be a delightful introduction. Certainly the Troup songbook is not as ubiquitous as that of a Cole Porter or a Sammy Kahn, and that is our loss. His music deserves better, and Deborah Shulman delivers. Listen to Shulman’s coy flirtatious interpretations and you’ll begin to get an idea of what you’ve been missing.

 Although Shulman says that other than “Route 66” she hadn’t been familiar with the music before she got involved in the project, she knew that her husband had been a friend of the Troup family, and thought it would “be fun to explore the connection.” They were given access to the family’s musical library. “It was like going on a treasure hunt,” she explains, and the eleven tunes eventually chosen for the disc are treasures she, along with her pianist arranger Ted Howe and his trio, has made her own. “I wanted this to be a jazz album with a party vibe. I wanted this to be a jazz album, with no crossover.” If that’s what she intended, she hit the mark. This is an album that will have you smiling.

She opens with a mischievous version of “You’re Looking at Me” followed by a wild romp through “Route 66” featuring a lot of cool bass. Between the two they set the party tone for the rest of the album. “Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast,” delivered with a vocal wink, echoes with delicious irony . She swings with the trio in a dynamic upbeat “Daddy,” that even gets a little raucous as it ends.

Indeed, she packs all of the ballads on the CD with an honesty born, she indicates, from her own “marriage collapse.” Her bluesy “Baby All the Time” that builds to a dynamite dramatic climax is one of the album’s highlights. Bleak though they are, “February Brings the Rain” and “The Meaning of the Blues” are gorgeous tunes sung with intensity. “It Happened Once Before” looks at the emotional peril involved in making a new romantic commitment. The trio—Howe on piano, Kevin Axt on bass and Dave Tull on drums—adds some elegant solo work through all of the ballads.

“The Three Bears” is a whimsical take on the children’s story and “Lemon Twist” goes for some witty word play backed up by some equally witty solo work from the trio. “Girl Talk,” the one song on the album for which Troup only wrote the lyrics (the music is by Neal Hefti) gets a much more haunting, or as the liner notes describe it, darker treatment in Howe’s arrangement than it usually gets.