Slot this album somewhere between Robert Davi singing Frank Sinatra and Kevin Spacey singing Bobby Darin. Six of the 14 cuts were signature tunes of Boone’s late mother-in-law, the great Rosemary Clooney, yet it’s no mere reprise of Boone’s 2005 Clooney tribute, Reflections of Rosemary, not with versions of “Cry Me a River,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Call it a tentative exercise in genre exploration. Then wonder whether the tentativeness results from Boone’s disinclination to offend or her genes.
Freddy Cole is now 82, yet he’s still known as Nat “King” Cole’s younger brother. That he doesn’t seem to mind may explain his vocal insouciance, which in turn may explain his carefree ability to take Helen Reddy’s proto-feminist, mother-daughter anthem “You and Me Against the World” and broaden it to include tandems of all kinds. More impressive yet is his performance of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which is so easygoing and dapper that you’d never know it was once the theme song of Midnight Cowboy.
Since classical music is half of what has long gone into jazz, it’s perfectly sensible that Hazeltine (piano), Jason Brown (drums), and the famous-in-his-own-right George Mraz (bass) should transmute these instantly recognizable classical melodies (Beethoven, Debussy, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Chopin). At times, the process feels too easy or at least too obvious, the kind of thing Vince Guaraldi might’ve had Schroeder doing in a Peanuts special. At other times, though, the familiarity fades into the background, freeing the trio to display some seriously formidable chops.
The chief delights of People Music, which McBride released with Inside Straight last May, were Warren Wolf’s vibraphone and Steve Wilson’s alto sax. The chief delight of this album, released three months later, is McBride’s bass. Bowed or plucked, comping or taking the lead, it keeps the ballads crisp, makes the sacred-secular near bookends “Hallelujah Time” and “Who’s Making Love” jump, and keeps “My Favorite Things” both crisp and jumping for over nine minutes. Meanwhile, Christian Sands (piano) and Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums), aren’t exactly chopped liver.
In 2012, the Canadian quartet The Darcys re-recorded Steely Dan’s album Aja, jettisoning the original’s jazz-pop skeleton and reimagining what remained as a fascinating template for 21st-century mid-tempo electronica and ethereal voice. The experiment worked, a testament as much to Aja’s innate coherence as to The Darcy’s creativity. Now, as if to balance the scales, the Mark Masters Ensemble has released Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (Capri).
Masters seems to have begun his arrangements by listening past anything that was “pop” about Steely Dan and by concentrating instead on the group’s jazz core. Or, as he himself puts it, “The premise of this recording is to free Becker and Fagen’s music from the earthly confines, in some cases, of harmonic structure and allow the band to create the magic that great improvisers birth.” Dodgy syntax aside, the statement is an accurate summary of everything that Everything You Did does.