Vocalists get a mixed press reaction in the jazz world. Most of us probably enjoy Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway's well-charged, hipster encoded genius, and Billie Holiday's survivor vibe pulls in almost as big a crowd. But from there on in there are two, seemingly irreconcilable tribes: one which loves vocalists, another which loathes and despises them.
The divide has probably been made wider by the current crop of over-produced jazz-lite twenty-somethings, marketed by the majors as saviours of the great American songbook. Easy on the eye and full of enthusiasm they may be, but most of these artists are simply too young and too callow to carry the material with any real conviction. Songs by the likes of Jimmy Van Heusen, Frank Loesser and Harold Arlenthree of the classic songbook composers featured on this albumtend to have more sophisticated, slower burning lyrics than the "I want to fuck your brains out" message at the root of today's chart oeuvre, and a twenty-something is unlikely to have lived enough life to get inside them.
But it's not all easy listening dreck out there. This swinging, musicianly and refreshingly under-produced album by British pianist/vocalist Pete Churchill deserves to make some converts. A sort of grown-up Jamie Cullum, Churchill has a warm, rough-edged, lived-in voice which brings added resonance to the lyrics. He's also a lyrical and unusually responsive accompanistMark Murphy's pianist of choice whenever the American is working in the UK.
Churchill is accompanied here by his regular colleagues Steve Watts and Dave Wickins, a rock solid teamand the great tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins guests beautifully on half the tracks. It's a simple and spontaneous affair, and all the better for it. "Good songs don't need to be diluted, revamped or arranged to death," says Churchill, "they will sing themselves if you let them."
The Bad And The Beautiful was actually recorded in autumn of '01, after Churchill's partner Nikki Ilesanother seriously good British jazz pianistbooked the studio as a surprise fortieth birthday present for Churchill. A better slice of post-prandial Christmas listening is hard to imagine.
And if Churchill doesn't mind shaving his legs, slipping into a dress and a blonde wig and raising his voice a couple of octaves, he could make some real money.
Personnel: Pete Churchill, piano and vocals; Steve Watts, double bass; Dave Wickins, drums; Bobby Wellins, tenor saxphone on "Nancy With The Laughing Face," "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year," "I Keep Going Back To Joe's - Learning The Blues," "Let's Get Lost" and "Ocean."