Tag Archives: Tom Lehrer

BOB MERRILL’S CHEERFUL MISSION

Bob Merrill CUTU

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.

You can follow Bob and learn more about his music here and here.

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THE AU BROTHERS “TAKE OFF!”

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know Gordon Au (youthful brass Maestro / composer / arranger / occasional vocalist) but may be less familiar with his gifted younger siblings — Justin (trumpet) and Brandon (trombone).  They’ve played jazz festivals as the Au Brothers Jazz Band, keeping family ties strong with the addition of Howard (Uncle How) Miyata on tuba.  Friends who round out the band are guitarist / banjoist / vocalist Katie Cavera and swing percussionist Danny Coots.  On paper, especially for those used to the “traditional” line-up, this combination might look unorthodox, but it works beautifully.  I can prove it!

They’ve just released their debut CD, aptly called THE AU BROTHERS TAKE OFF! (with witty art by Molly Reeves of the Red Skunk Gipzee band, and characteristically literate liner notes by Gordon).

AU!

The CD features a few chestnuts given new life — JELLY ROLL (with a vocal by Uncle How that is reminiscent of a good bakery) and LIMEHOUSE BLUES, several songs from a century ago — WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WITH ME (vocal by the choreographic Katie) and CENTRAL, GIVE ME BACK MY DIME (a song new to me but one that gives Brandon an opportunity to rail at the limitations of the “new” technology when it’s involved in romance) — and originals by Gordon which show his range from wooing to hilarious, from swing to comedic grotesquerie: PISMO BEACH PARADE, STINKY FEET BLUES (not what you might expect), CAPITAL-BOUND, HOW COULD I SAY THAT I LOVE YOU, TANGO OF LOST LOVES, BROOKLYNBURG RAG — and a wonderful collage of themes from jazz classics, BIG CHIEF DADA’S AXE OF PLENTY STRAIN.  The interplay between the horns is marvelous; the rhythm section rocks, and the whole enterprises sits comfortably somewhere between the Hot Five, Gil Evans, Tom Lehrer, and Spike Jones, the balance shifting from song to song.

You can find out more about the band (their schedule of future appearances) and the CD here, and the Brothers have generously posted many videos of the band on this site.

I will take this opportunity to add to the Brothers’ video hoard — for current watchers and future generations as well as life forms on other planets who might be vibrating to the gigabytes in interstellar space — with some engaging evidence of the ABJB in action at the 2013 Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, California. Gordon’s casual wardrobe was especially arranged by American Airlines’ baggage handlers.

PISMO BEACH PARADE:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

BROOKLYNBURG RAG:

HOW CAN I SAY THAT I LOVE YOU?:

TANGO OF LOST LOVES:

WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WITH ME:

CAPITAL-BOUND:

In the words of the 1933 LAUGHIN’ LOUIE, “Take off, Gate!”

May your happiness increase!