SIMPLE LIFE / McCARTNEY-LENNON: Blackbird.* With a Little Help From My Friends. ARLEN-HARBURG: If I Only Had a Brain.* TIZOL-ELLINGTON-MILLS: Caravan.* NEIL: Everybody’s Talkin’.* BLOOM-RUBY: Give Me the Simple Life. NOBLE: The Touch of Your Lips. KERN-HAMMERSTEIN: Folks Who Live on the Hill. ROLLINS: No Moe. DYLAN: Girl From the North Country. JOST: Bela Tristeza. Livin’ in the Wrong Time. TRAD.: Shenandoah / Paul Jost, voc; Jim Ridl, pno; Dean Johnson, bs; Tim Horner, dm; *Joe Locke, vib / PJ Music, no number
Paul Jost is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and arranger who has performed in New York clubs as well as internationally. After many years working as a sideman with some of the bigger names in jazz (among them Billy Eckstine, Mark Murphy, Dr. John, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Farrell and Ron Carter), he began singing in 2015. This is his second album as a vocalist.
Undoubtedly due to his long career and connections, Jost has assembled a first-rate swinging band for this CD. He alternates between a soft delivery and singing “out,” and in the first track, an uptempo jazz rendition of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, he also shows that he picked up a few things about improvising with the voice from Murphy. The rhythm section works behind him mostly as a unit, propelling the swing behind him, and on the first tour tracks he also has vibist Joe Locke to add to the mix. Jost doesn’t have Murphy’s great vocal range—he has to really reach for those notes that Murphy got so easily—but he swings just as hard and knows how to propel the beat.
Moreover, his ability to take songs that other jazz singers and musicians normally don’t touch—not only Blackbird, but also If I Only Had a Brain (in a slow but swinging rendition that the jazz-loving Harold Arlen surely would have liked), Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’, Ray Noble’s Touch of Your Lips and Bob Dylan’s Girl From the North Country—and turn them into effective vehicles for his vocal talents says a great deal for his imagination.
His arranging skills are also evident in his rewriting of Juan Tizol’s Caravan, surely the most famous and popular Eastern-tinged jazz/pop tune of all time (Ellington himself made no less than four completely different arrangements of it for his band). And as I say, his jazz chops are clearly honed to a fine pitch; to my ears, he is one of the most interesting jazz singers since Murphy’s death. I wasn’t particularly crazy about his rendition of Everybody’s Talkin’ even though I picked up on the fact that he was trying to sound like a lost, confused soul making his way through a crowd of people. I mean, it was nice, I guess, and certainly original, but it didn’t move me. Give Me the Simple Life starts out as a half-spoken, half-sung performance, but when he reaches the song proper he takes it at a nice medium tempo and really swings. Dean Johnson’s bass is particularly good on this one, bouncing the rhythm nicely behind both Jost and pianist Jim Ridl’s solo.
I also really liked The Touch of Your Lips, taken at a surprisingly fast tempo rather than its usual ballad pace and with good scatting in his vocal solo. Johnson also gets to solo on this one. Jost slows down Jerome Kern’s Folks Who Live on the Hill and gives it the whisper treatment. So too is the Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends, which I felt was the wrong approach to this song, but what the hey. They can’t all be masterpieces.
Jost does an excellent job, however, on Sonny Rollins’ No Moe, scatting and improvising throughout, and Johnson’s rather extended bass solo on here is superb. Bob Dylan’s Girl From the North Country is converted into a soulful ballad. (I don’t much like soulful ballads.)
Bele Tristezza is an original waltz tune which features someone whistling behind Jost’s opening scat vocal before moving into a nice piano solo with the rhythm. Shenandoah, a song I’ve always hated, goes in one ear and out the other as it usually does.
The album closes with yet another ballad, Livin’ in the Wrong Time, but this one is more serious, being about children being killed at school—undoubtedly by a fellow student whose brain was filled by hate, fueled by something twisted online or in a video game, as is normally the case. Kind of a downer for an album that has a lot of ups on it.
Simple Life, then, is a mixed bag, combining some terrific singing and arrangements with touchy-feely ballads and ending on a solemn note. But Jost is clearly a talented jazz singer, thus for more than half the album it’s definitely worth hearing.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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