JC Hopkins Biggish Band: Underneath a Brooklyn Moon (2005)
There is a clear retro feel about bandleader, pianist, and songwriter JC Hopkins as he goes on the road in support of his debut with his Biggish Band. Onstage, the group looks and sounds as if we were still in the mid-'40s. The leader dresses in a vintage-looking suit, and even though the band has some young-looking faces who seem to belong more in the punk rock scene, they all seem committed to preserving the sound and feel of the big bands of yore.
The California-born leader, who grew up listening to a mix of jazz and Beatles songs, moved to New York five years ago and began the project with a core group of musicians which included Norah Jones, for whom he co-wrote (with bassist Lee Alexander) "The Painter Song, which was featured on Jones' Come Away With Me (Blue Note, 2002).
On this loosely conceptual album, Hopkins tells the story of a couple who moves to the Borough of Kings to "make music and love. The songs drift seamlessly from traditional jazz into more bebop-like moments (for example, the mostly instrumental "Small Town ) and each song features the talents of the players in the band, weathered musicians such as Patience Higgins (tenor sax), Warren Smith (vibes), Lewis "Flip Barnes (trumpet/vocals), Queen Esther (whose voice shares an impressive resemblance with the late Nina Simone's), and others.
Although all the tunes on the album have an "old feel to them, all but one are original songs written or co-written by Hopkins. One of the highlights is "One Never Knows, a mid-tempo song co-written with Norah Jones, in which Esther's vocals share the spotlight with saxophone solos by Higgins and Cleave Guyton. Another great moment is the soft "Someday, a song that tells the hope that struggling artists have of "making good someday. Also pay attention to "Show Biz'ness, a jaded but humorous warning to anyone hoping to make it into that world.
Track Listing: Here Comes Love; One Never Knows; I've Got My Finger On A Star; Ice Cream Song; Underneath A Brooklyn Moon; Small Town; I Still Believe In Some Kind Of Love; Someday; Show Biz'ness; Settle Down.
Personnel: J.C. Hopkins: vocals, piano; Queen Esther: vocals; Lewis Barnes: vocals; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Cleave Guyton: clarinet, alto saxophone; Patience Higgins: tenor saxophone; Claire Daly: baritone saxophone; Erik Jacobson, James Zollar, Chuck MacKinnon: trumpet; Vincent Chancey: French horn; J. Walter Hawkes: trombone; Warren Smith: vibraphone; Catherine Popper: double bass; Sunny Jain: drums.