FIRST MAN / JACOBS: First. First Man. Last Night. Sabine’s Grind. Fly. Say What You Will. The Love Within You. Long Walk. ETOROMA: Undercurrent. RODGERS-HAMMERSTEIN: My Favorite Things. WITHERS: Lonely Town, Lonely Street. LAMAR: You Ain’t Gonna Lie. DISTEL: The Good Life. TAYLOR: Secret o’ Life /Sidney Jacobs, voc; Nolan Shaheed, tp; Wendell Kelly, tbn; Francesco Canas, vln; Josh Johnson, a-sax; Justin Thomas, vib/marimba; Michael Jarvey, pn/el-pn/vla; Josh Nelson, pn; Greg Poree, gtr/el-gtr; Cathy Segal-Garcia, bcgd voc; Zephyr Avalon, bs/el-bs; Efa Etoroma Jr., dm / Baby Chubs Records
School psychologist Sidney Jacobs has never let his day job stop his singing and songwriting activities, and it shows in this, his second CD, to be released on January 23. An artist in the Al Jarreau mold, Jacobs combines a certain amount of scatting with his own personal way of using his voice like an instrument, yet unlike Jarreau he is much more text-oriented in his singing. Words obviously mean a lot to Jacobs, and he skillfully blends these two diverse skills together in an exuberant manner.
Of the songs on this CD, only one is an established standard, My Favorite Things, although some listeners may also be familiar with Bill Withers’ Lonely Town, Lonely Street or James Taylor’s Secret o’ Life. The others are all originals: Kendrick Lamar’s You Ain’t Gonna Lie, Efa Etoroma, Jr.’s First and Undercurrent, and seven tunes penned by Jacobs himself. The singer is not only his own best songwriter for his personal style, but also the producer of this record and CD label (this appears to be the first release on the Baby Chub label, which was incorporated in September 2016 by Jacobs). In the notes he says that “FIRST MAN began in earnest when I reached out to Zephyr Avalon, after having written the song Fly (which was inspired in part when I heard him and Tina Raymond playing one weeknight in the fall of 2015). Through him I met Michael Jarvey – whose commitment to the music and friendship have moved me, and Efa Etoroma Jr. – whose consistent pulse and inventiveness inspire me to name him ‘The Undercurrent.’ With the core trio set, my writing progressed at a fevered pitch.”
The album has the feel of having been recorded in one or two days, so consistent is the level of inspiration in the performances. Jacobs’ voice has a tawny quality about it which is generally attractive except for a few moments when he yells out the high notes, but by and large when you listen to this album what you hear is that amazing sense of style, his gift for communication, and the way he fits words and music together. The music itself leans towards funk jazz with a touch of calypso here and there, but the ebb and flow of the band and the singing is so musical that you just enjoy the way it all fits together. It’s the kind of set that, if you heard it in a club on a Saturday evening, would make you sit up and take notice. It has that kind of immediate appeal.
The highly accomplished musicians in the band are generally relegated to backing Jacobs up, with an occasional alto sax solo by Josh Johnson here and there (a particularly lovely half-chorus on Say What You Will, a tune in waltz time which also includes a brief solo by pianist Michael Jarvey). This was my only disappointment: I would have liked a few other solos by the trumpet, trombone, violin or vibes here and there. Perhaps on his next CD we can hear more of the band.
All in all, First Man is the kind of jazz CD that can satisfy in a number of contexts: rainy afternoons, relaxed party evenings and just for fun!
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley