Various Artists: Jazz For Couch Potatoes! (2004)
Talk about benefiting from low expectations.
Maybe it's the thought of commercial smooth jazz emissary Chuck Loeb tackling the theme from "Gilligan's Island." Or a talent like saxophonist Eric Alexander stooping into "I Dream Of Genie." Or that Jazz For Couch Potatoes! even exists as a tribute to maybe our nation's most pathetic legal habit.
Loeb, a guitarist who assembles an all-star ensemble for this album, notes that show tunes are hardly a new thing in the world of jazz. Bob James' "Taxi" and Bill Evans' "M*A*S*H*" are two well-known themes included on this album, and John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" is proof that such efforts are capable of greatness.
Is this a great album? No. But it is competent, and considering its rather dubious prospects, that is an accomplishment.
The album's main drawback, in fact, may be that it takes itself too seriously. A project like this screams for whimsical treatment and there's seldom much sense of the players letting their hair down and having fun. The mere act of giving these themes an unfamiliar accent is a source of amusement in itself, of course, and probably will sufficiently fulfill the purpose of bringing a smilebut sadly not a laughto nostalgic listeners.
The whole thing flows in sort of a '60s and '70s Wes Montgomery kind of way, fitting enough since most of the shows are from that era as well. "Gilligan's Island" gets the rapid waltz treatment and David Mann's soprano sax delivers enough post bop heft to avoid the ridicule it's so obviously exposed to. Loeb is in fine Montgomery and Randy Brecker takes a passable stab at Miles on "The Cosby Show." Alexander lives up to his reputation by providing some of the album's finest slow and thoughtful moments on "Gunsmoke." Still, remarkable passages are fewthere's just enough decent ones that this doesn't feel like a waste of time.
There aren't a lot of ballads or barn burners, as nobody seems to rise to the potential of serenades like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" or the funk of Quincy Jones' "Sanford And Son." The somewhat low-key feel of the album might also feel considerably livelier with a theme like "Mission Impossible," "Hawaii- Five-O" or even the street funk of "Oz." And since Loeb's compositional credits include the news themes for CNN and CBS, why not give them the shakedown treatment?
Listeners purchasing this as a novelty will probably be more satisfied than those taking their favorite artists for a spin. It might also serve as an excellent primer on jazz, since most people will be familiar with the original tunes and can hear them interpreted in various styles. And unlike some novelty albums, it can be played through in a roomful of people without someone saying "OK, it was fun for a song or two, but..."
Track Listing: Sex And The City; Bewitched/I Dream Of Genie; Sanford And Son; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; The Cosby Show; Peter Gunn; Taxi; Gilligan's Island; Gunsmoke; The Andy Griffith Show; M*A*S*H*
Personnel: Chuck Loeb, guitar; Eric Alexander, saxophones; David Mann, saxophones, flute; Randy Brecker, trumpet, flugelhorn; David Samuels, vibes; Brian Dunne, drums; David Finck, bass; Mike Ricchiuti, piano, organ, keyboards; David Charles, percussion; Ron Jenkins, bass; Michael Pope, bass