Famous Blue, by vocalist Amy Cervini and her quartet, is a marvelous example of the way jazz can be stretched to encompass almost any musical style.
While many well-known jazz players are using pop or progressive rock tunes as the basis for improvisation, such as Greg Osby with the music of Bjork, there seems to be some kind of audible boundary that excludes this or that tune from being "jazzified." Whether it is the music's rhythm, its melodic or harmonic structure, or even that it has words at all which are to be sung, some tunes immediately jump out as jazz rejects.
The attraction of Famous Blue is that it bends and warps any preconceptions that the listener might have, and, in real time, resists being labeled. This can even happen in the middle of a tune, which initially sounds as if it belongs in the pop or folk pigeonhole, only to drift over to jazz and then back. Once this happens a few times, you might begin to question any assumption you have made about jazz, or any music for that matter.
It is obvious that Cervini herself deserves much of the credit for the success of Famous Blue, since she is the leader and vocals attract the most attention. Her voice is quite malleable and she seemingly can sing almost anything, matching tonal qualities to her delivery.
However, the rest of the quartet, either with their playing or by the group arrangements, also have much to do with creating music that has staying power and depth. Pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Mark Lau and drummer Ernesto Cervini contribute both individually and as a group with accompaniments and instrumental sections that raise this album above the mundane.
"How He Sings," an original by producer Oded Lev-Ari is a good example of how the group works. The track starts out with a jazzy vamp that accompanies a melody which, despite some feints, has a pop structure. However, after the verse is sung, Cervini vocalizes some notes against the vamp that is now separated from the words, and first Cabe and then Ernesto Cervini get a chance to take off, raising the question of where a "song" ends and a "jazz" improvisation begins.
Cervini, whose dynamic drum playing drove his own Here (Self published, 2006), provides the energy in many ways, adding subtle sophistication to the music. Cabe picks up on this and adds interesting comping and fills.
The singing on "Don't Explain," by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. is very good by any measure, as Cervini lets us in on what the song means to her. This track exemplifies the dichotomy of the album: are these jazz or pop musicians crossing over, and which way are they going? In the end, it is neither and both, and this is what makes Famous Blue so enjoyable.
Track Listing: Because I Told You So; How He Sings; Sliding Down; Famous Blue Raincoat; No Moon At All; Mushaboom; Extraordinary Machine; Don't Fence Me In; Don't Explain; Holiday.