Jack Phillips: Cafe Nights In New York (2012)
New York is, and always has been, a study in contrasts when it comes to the jazz it presents. The Big Apple has a reputation as the place to be for those looking to hear, explore and partake in all that's modern in this music, but it also plays home to certain venues that serve as the last vestiges of old world style. Chief among the rooms that traffic in the charm and class associated with cabaret performers, Cole Porter songs and cocktails is the Cafe Carlyle, and few who enter this hallowed space are immune to its charm.
Vocalist/composer Jack Phillips fell under its sway long ago and found inspiration in what he heard there. Phillips, who typically works in pop and rock situations, made it a point to go to the Carlyle to check out the late Bobby Short's performances and, in more recent times, the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band, and these listening experiences proved to be transformative. Short's work was the impetus behind Phillips' decision to take the plunge into cabaret territory and Davis serves as his arranger, producer, guitar-and-banjo wielding accompanist, occasional songwriting partner and style guide.
While most rock-associated artists looking to cross into cabaret-style territory do so with a safety net of songs from the like of Porter, Gershwin, and Rodgers and Hart in hand, Phillips took the riskier approach and wrote all of the music for Cafe Nights In New York; in some places, this gambit pays off. The absorbing and refined "Someone" and the NOLA-glazed "The Old Grey Hat" are chief among his successes. Elsewhere, the material can be a bit contrived, lyrically speaking ("Magic"), or somewhat forgettable ("Sometimes It Happens") but, on the whole, Phillips proves to be a strong writer capable of conjuring thoughts of a time long gone and a city worth savoring.
Stylistic authenticity is chief among the strong suits of this music and much credit should go to Davis and the other players on board. Multi-instrumental virtuoso Scott Robinson is superb, whether delivering breathtaking tenor saxophone soloing ("Someone") or obbligato on flute or cornet, Conal Fowkes dresses up the music with all manner of sounds, ranging from pianistic class to vibraphone work to string sweetening, and Dan Levinson's clarinet brightens up the atmosphere on "The Old Grey Hat."
Phillips plays his part of old-school cabaret charmer to a T. While he isn't endowed with a voice like Short's and he occasionally pushes a bit too hard, he knows his strengths and limitations well and finds firm footing during the majority of this date. His first foray into the swanky fineries of upper crust musical living features plenty to enjoy.
Track Listing: Take Them To Manhattan; Someone; The Old Grey Hat; Sometimes It Happens; Table For Two; Let's Drink To Us; I've Got Sophistication Too; I Remember Paris And You; 125th Street In Harlem; Magic.
Personnel: Jack Phillips: vocals; Conal Fowkes: piano, vibraphone, bass trombone, accordion, strings; Klaus Suonsaari: drums; Pat O'Leary: bass; Scott Robinson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, cornet, flute; Eddy Davis: banjo, acoustic guitar, wire brush; Dan Levinson: clarinet; Jim Czak: shaker.
Record Label: Magnolia Group Records