The current "youth" movement in jazz has produced many young artists with exceptional talent and brilliant futures. Saxophonist, pianists, bassists, trumpeters, and trombonists all abound and seem assured of carrying jazz into the 21st century safely with the proper respect and passion. However, for all of the talent distributed across jazz, none has seemed to surface in the guise of a real male jazz singer. Harry Connick and John Pizzarelli had emerged as the heirs to the crooning of Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra, but no heirs seem available to carry on the traditions of Joe Williams, Johnny Hartman, and Jimmy Rushing.
Until now. With his brilliant new album Another Time Another Place, Kevin Mahogany steps confidently up and assumes the title of heir apparent. And as this album demonstrates, the art of the male jazz singer is in fine hands indeed.
With his second album for Warner Brothers, Mahogany takes a turn away from the genre mixing that dominated his first album for the label and plants himself firmly in the spotlight as the next great male jazz singer. From the opening track, an original scatting romp called "Big Rub," Mahogany demonstrates the full gammet of skills for the male jazz singer. On "Big Rub" he scats effortlessly, interplaying with tenor man Joe Lovano as the rhythm section lays down a jumpin' groove. On the final track "Parker's Mood / Kansas City" Mahogany opens up and lets loose with the sheer immensity of his voice, recalling the great blues shouters of Kansas City. Mahogany's frequent comparisons with Joe Williams come to mind listening to the end of "Kansas City", as well as during his surprisingly sublime duet with country star Randy Travis, "I Believe She Was Talkin' Bout Me." Travis and Mahogany banter back and forth over the same woman with both men oozing confidence, and Mahogany displaying his strong skills for vocal improvisation.
Mahogany's unique ability to mix genre's without sounding trite or lounge-ish have been well documented throughout his short career. However, what Kevin brings new to the table this time is a talent for standards. And at that, standards his way. "Nature Boy" swings at a pace reminiscent of Johnny Hartman's versions, and "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" glides gently on, with Mahogany showing off his emotional depth and phrasing. The highlight of the disc though, is Mahogany's vocal version Charles Mingus's tribute to Lester Young "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Mahogany glides comfortably along with the hauntingly beautiful melody, putting real emotion into the lyrics. Throughout the song Mahogany voice (and Lovano's tenor) transport the listener to a dark and smoky club, near closing time; just the atmosphere the song was meant to portray.
Throughout the disc, Mahogany's musical compatriots shine with the same brilliance as the singer. Lovano displays the feel for the tenor that has made him one of the most popular and revered jazzmen today. The rhythm section of Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums swing and sway as if they've been playing together for years. Special kudos go to guitarist Dave Stryker whose work is reminiscent of Kenny Burrell, with a feathery touch on the ballads and authoritative swing throughout. Chestnut's piano also stands out, showing off his skills as both accompanist and soloist.
Overall, this disc is highly, highly recommended. The art of jazz singing is a difficult one to master. Singing jazz with swing is even harder. Mahogany however, swings and scats confidently, interacting with the other musicians and the song itself. His touch for ballads is confident as well, allowing him to immerse himself fully in the song and its subject, pulling from his voice the big emotions of this big man. Kevin, welcome to the big time. We're glad you're here.
Very highly recommended - 4 1/2 out of 5