I initially thought of this album as something of a Curate’s Egg. This is the debut jazz recording from vocalist Morgan. He clearly has a background in musical theatre. In my experience singers from the world of the musical seldom cross over successfully to the jazz arena. The delivery of a show song is completely different from that of a jazz vocalist. A certain musical flexibility required of a jazz singer is often lacking.
The jazz credentials are supplied by pianist Fred Hersch who also provides three of the compositions including the title track which has lyrics by Norma Winstone. It might be instructive to compare and contrast Morgan’s interpretation of the song with Winstone’s, which appears on ‘Songs and Lullabies’, a duo album with Hersch from 2003.
I should make it clear that this is not a bad album – far from it, it’s simply that I wonder if it is a jazz album per se.
The thirteen songs are varied and well-chosen. The first track, ‘It’s You Or No One’ will certainly be familiar to jazz fans. Morgan handles the song well and has a pleasing timbre to his voice. The song includes a vocalese lyric by Morgan to a classic Chet Baker solo, as if to emphasise the jazz values of the album. The album includes guest performances from Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel on the Morgan and Hersch composition ‘I’ll Follow’ and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm who is featured on three tracks and puts in a particularly spirited performance on the Ellington tune ‘I’m Just A Lucky So And So’.
Morgan describes the album “as a musical photo album of the touchstones in or lives”. To quote from The Republic of Jazz blogspot, “his (Morgan’s) interpretations are imbued with the loves and losses that accumulate over a life well lived”.
Throughout, Hersch, who is also Morgan’s partner in life as well as music, provides sympathetic accompaniment and thoughtful and appropriate solos, ably supported by Matt Aronoff on bass and Ross Pederson at the drums.
The repertoire is richly varied and includes, not only classics from what has come to be known as “the great American songbook” but also, for want of a better phrase, pop classics. Including ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight’ by James Taylor and a particularly effective duet with Hersch on Lennon and McCartney’s ‘I Will’.
Whilst listening to the album, I’m drawn to comparing Morgan with the likes of cabaret singer Michael Feinstein and even further back to the era of Matt Dennis. But perhaps the most accurate comparison would be with Kenny Rankin. Rankin was not a jazz artist either but both share the same warm vocal intonation.
So in conclusion, not an out-and-out jazz album but nonetheless a very enjoyable offering from a vocalist who is clearly passionate about song. His attractive voice and varied song selection should ensure the disk a wider appeal outside the jazz community and Morgan’s native New York City, where he has garnered a devoted following.
And that reference to a Curate’s Egg, well, maybe I was a little harsh. This album certainly repays repeated listening.