This San Francisco based Jazz Menagerie should not be confused with a group of the same name which plays out of Austin, Texas. Like so many of their contemporaries, this inaugural album offers a blend of many musical genre and sub-genres. There's funk, blues, pop and jazz all wrapped in a contemporary cover. Mainstream jazz is ably represented by "In the Morning" with a very sincere vocal by Raya Yarbrough, and "Now and Then" featuring Yarbrough singing and humming over the sax of Mike Lewis and Ernie Mansfield's flute. Blues with a Latin beat comes into play with "For the Last Time". Strings weave a classical chamber music bent woven into "To Noriko". "Just a Dream?" is just that, dreamy and pretty. Every now and then the relationship between the title of the tune and the music is readily discernible. And so it goes. Each track offers something a bit different than the one that preceded it. But the tempo remains pretty much the same throughout, slow and quiet. Each item on the play list comes from the pen of Jim Ludwig and it's very engaging material. The music is pleasant and the lyrics, while not rivaling Cole Porter's, catch and articulate many contemporary feelings and situations. They are printed in the liner notes allowing each listener to make his/her own judgment. But the Ally McBeal crowd, and many of the rest of us, will relate very nicely to these lyrics. The performance level of the instrumentalists is high and this adds to the pleasure of the album. Recommended. Visit the group's web site at http://www. jazzmenagerie.com.
Track Listing: Now and Then; Just Hold Me; On My Way; Shining Star (Song to All Children); In the Morning; Letting Go of Spring; Just a Dream?; That Special Moment; For the Last Time; To Noriko
Personnel: Raya Yarbrough, Claytoven Richardson - Vocals; Ben Yonas - Keyboards; Curtis Ohlson - Electric Bass; Peter Barshay, Eric Perney - Acoustic Bass; Paul Van Wageningen - Drums/ Cymbals; Josh Jones - Drums/Bells/Bongos; Adam Levine - Guitar; Mike Lewis - Tenor & Soprano Sax; Eric Mansfield - Flute; Sarah Jo Zaharako - Violin; Jessica Ivry - Cello; Piero Amadeo Infante - Shaker