Taylor Hicks defied the odds when he beat the competition to win first prize at the conclusion of the fifth season of American Idol
. Although the Birmingham, Alabama native never expressed it on the show, he was also inspired by his father's extensive jazz collection, though he knew it would be difficult to make a living sticking exclusively to singing jazz rather than appealing to the far larger pop audience. But Hicks managed to get a release from his label contract to record a single jazz-oriented CD for the tiny Idlewilde label.
Although soul jazz-oriented material seems a natural choice, he also covers a lot of other ground. The surprising opener is "Caravan," from the Duke Ellington songbook, where he benefits from the brisk arrangement and fine hand drumming of Moroccan percussionist Ali Bahdum. The vocalist is obviously having fun as he tackles Bobby Timmons' "Dat Dere" (even if his attempts at a child-like voice are a bit awkward), backed by Jiri-Lee Paupenpilz's driving bass.
He offers dramatic interpretations of "Sunrise, Sunset" (From Fiddler on the Roof) and the timeless standard "Body and Soul," with excellent backing from Bosnian pianist Emil Kazhinaczech. His take of "Georgia On My Mind" is every bit as soulful as Ray Charles' famous version, but with a jazzier touch. Hicks' humorous two-minute wrap-up of Steve Allen's theme song, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," is a scream as he makes it known in his liner notes that this jazz session is likely a one-shot opportunity.
Personnel: Taylor Hicks: vocals; Emil Kazhinaczech: piano; Jiri-Lee Paupenpilz: bass; Ali Bahdum: drums; Simon Cowell: