While Johnny Mercer
's place in history has been acknowledged time and again, album-length tributes to the legendary lyricist, songwriter, vocalist, and Capitol Records founder aren't as common as you might think. Yes, there are gems in that category (and/or compilations) from vocal icons like Ella Fitzgerald
, Frank Sinatra
, Bing Crosby
, and Rosemary Clooney
; oddities that fit the bill, like drummer Buddy Rich
's vocal-centric journey through Mercer's work; under-the-radar dates from unsung vocal treasures like Bill Henderson
and Daryl Sherman
that certainly qualify and deserve a listen; and, more than likely, a few Mercer-centric programs lost in the shadows of history or hiding in plain sight. But when you consider the breadth and depth of his workhe wrote lyrics for well over a thousand songs, put music to paper for more than a few of them, and brought many to life with his inimitable vocalsthe number of Mercer tribute albums out there seems rather small. That's just one reason why it's so nice to see bassist-vocalist Kristin Korb dipping into the Mercer well for her latest effort.
With Beyond The Moon
, Korb acknowledges Mercer's classic contributions, his partnerships with a variety of top-notch tunesmiths, his foundling lyrics, and the completeness of artistry in his work. In doing so, Korb shines in much the same way that Mercer did, packaging her many skills together. She's long been praised for her dual talents as bassist and vocalist, but her gifts as arranger, composer, and interpreter shouldn't be overlooked. All of it comes together beautifully across these eleven songs.
Korb and her simpatico trio matespianist Magnus Hjorth
and drummer Snorre Kirk
kick off the program with an appropriately cheery "Too Marvelous For Words" that swings and delights. A stop-and-shift-on-a-dime crispness is evident in the music from the get-go, as is ingenuity in the arranging. Solo breaks, stops, scat singing, hits, and shifts in feel from 4/4 swing to a buoyant waltz feel and back again are all part of this well-formed opener. Hjorth's take on "Baby, Don't You Quit Now"a collaboration between Mercer and jazz piano great Jimmy Rowles
follows, providing immediate contrast. It's a mellow swinger that's fairly direct in presenting its musical intentions. Then there's Otmaro Ruiz
's Brazilian-flavored arrangement of "Something Tells Me (I'm Falling In Love)," complete with a burning solo from Hjorth; a bluesier-than-usual "Midnight Sun," intoxicating to the ear; and a "Jeepers Creepers" that cooks, plays with phrasing, puts everybody in the spotlight, and highlights Kirk's brushwork.
The literal midpoint of the albumKorb and Hjorth's "Twilight"is a marked departure from what comes before it. It's a staid offering that moves with a semi-classical bearing, and the first of two originals that hold no connection to the man of the hour. The bossa-tinged, Korb-penned title track is the other one.
The four other numbers on the program all turn back toward Mercer and his history. "I'm Old Fashioned," pointing to his work with Jerome Kern
, finds Kirk's brushes dancing with delight; "Moon River," born of the marriage of Mercer's words and Henry Mancini
's music, provides a mellow respite; and "Here You Are" and "Right Under My Eyes" dress Mercer's previously-unused lyrics in new music that works like a charm.
Korb could've played it safe by simply filling an album with old Mercer classics done up in rote fashion, but she didn't. Instead, she sought to give a fuller picture of the man by putting her own skill set(s) to the test. It paid off in the end. Beyond The Moon
is beyond great.