Wow, this is a rarity, a male jazz singer. Off the top of my head I could think of no more than a handful of singers who’d released albums in the last few years – Al Jarreau, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling, Jose James, Jamie Cullum, Ian Shaw. I’m sure that there are more, but it does feel as if they belong to a protected species. Nicolas Bearde is a new name to me, although this is his fifth release. I am sure that the reason for this is that all of his albums have been self-released through his Right Groove label, without the benefits of big label promotional backing.
Lets start with stylistic and vocal comparisons. Lou Rawls is the first name that springs to mind, a similarity acknowledged by the artist himself with his 2008 release “Live at Yoshi’s: A Salute to Lou”. He has also been compared to Jon Lucien, and whilst they are both baritones, and Bearde readily admits to his influence, for me his vocals do not have the same depth of emotion. Other comparisons go further back, to the likes of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Hartman.
Musically “Invitation” is a straight ahead jazz album from top to bottom. All 9 songs are cover versions.
The album opens with the breezy “Come Back To Me”, from the musical “On a Clear Day”. Whilst it does not have the gusto of a full orchestra like the Yves Montand-film or Frank Sinatra versions, it still swings and works well in a quartet setting. In particular I really enjoy the break down at the end of the track, which features seemingly effortless interplay between vocals, piano and sax.
Nat Adderley Jr plays piano on most of the tracks and his relaxed, subtle style is a strong feature throughout.
Next up is Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi”. This is one of two tracks inspired by Jon Lucien versions, the other being “Maiden Voyage”. Again both are downsized versions compared to their inspirations, but work reasonably well in these more intimate jazz surroundings.
Another highlight is the final track, “Save Your Love For Me”, the most soulful on the album.
On the downside, I find Bearde’s version of “Nature Boy” quite dull. To be honest this is a song I’ve heard too many times, by too many singers. His voice seems quite stretched in some of the faster, higher passages on this recording, as it does on some of the other songs.
Overall the album is enjoyable enough although there are times when I find Bearde’s vocal style a little limited. The choice of covers is interesting and I think gets the balance right between the obvious and not so obvious. However when all is said and done this is an album of covers and therefore lacks something creatively.