If anyone can improve the cosmic disposition, trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill has a good shot at it. He has the right attitude for sure. On his new CD, he’s got the happy assistance of pianists John Medeski, Matthew Fries, and John Van Eps; guitarist Drew Zingg, string bassist / vocalist Nicki Parrott, drummer George Schuller, percussionist Vicente Lebron, reedman / flautist Russ Gershon, and special guests: tenorist Harry Allen, the legendary trombonist Roswell Rudd, and singer Gabrielle Agachiko.
I’ll let Bob sing, play, and comment here —
The CD itself is a fascinating hybrid — part post-bop Blue Note jazz with its rough edges smoothed off, part cheerful high-level vintage pop that would have sold millions in its own time and will no doubt attract new listeners in 2015. The range is deliciously broad, the results convincing — from Paul Simon’s FEELIN’ GROOVY (a sweet witty duet for Bob and Nicki) to James Taylor and Randy Newman . . . and the only jazz version of Pharell Williams’ HAPPY that I expect to have on my shelves.
Bob explains this repertoire convincingly: “Most of the songs on this album entered my consciousness during adolescence. Some made me laugh and others made me cry. All filled me with joy, and perhaps not coincidentally, they all achieved a great measure of popularity as bona fide hits on their respective charts. Interpreting them in a personal way from a jazz perspective had been a labor of love.”
There are some delicious surprises here — triumphs of imagination. I won’t spoil all the surprises, but my current favorite is a sharp-edged version of Randy Newman’s POLITICAL SCIENCE (LET’S DROP THE BIG ONE) that features Roswell Rudd, mock antique honky-tonk piano flourishes from Medeski, as Bob croons the dire lyrics over a twenty-first century “Dixieland” frolic. It made me think, “What if Tom Lehrer had had the chance to record with George Wein’s Storyville band, say, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell?” Now, there’s an auditory miracle we can only imagine — thank you, Bob!
Bob is no popularizer, no jokester offering a buffet table of vintage pops played jazzily: even at its most light-hearted, this is a project based on heartfelt conviction: “We hope our music will offer cheer to you and any other beings in the universe capable of entering these sounds into their auditory senses.”
Even if the reach of this CD is narrower, and it cheers up only terrestrial listeners, it’s still a worthy enterprise. Reach for this CD in the morning instead of your smartphone, perhaps.
Here (that’s Bob’s website) you can hear sound samples, check out Bob’s other CDs, and — cosmically — purchase this one.