The Great American Songbook is something of a repertoire Bible for jazz vocalists, regardless of whether or not they originally hail from America. Vocalist Beat Kaestli was born in Switzerland, but he made New York his home after arriving to attend the Manhattan School of Music in the early 1990s. Since that time, his music has touched on everything from gospel and R&B to musical theater, but he has really narrowed his focus to jazz since his exploration of standards on Happy, Sad And Satisfied (B&B Productions, 2005). The follow-up, Far From Home (B&B Productions, 2009), touched on European songwriters, but Invitation brings him back to standards territory.
Certain aspects of this recording are immediately inviting and bear mentioning. First, is the audio quality. This is Kaestli's debut for Chesky Records, and the label goes out of its way to make sure its albums have a pristine sound. While Chesky might be marketing to audiophilessince this is an SACD Multichannel Hybrid Discthe music is inviting enough to appeal to a broad audience, regardless of their audio gear. Once you get past the recording technology, you arrive at Kaestli's voice. His unpretentious tenor simply glides and floats over the band throughout these nine performances.
While each song has its own unique genetic markers in the arrangements and execution, certain formulaic similarities are apparent. The first thing to be noted is the tempo of each piece, with songs ranging from relaxed to extremely slow. Next, is the overall structural arc; many of these pieces begin with a single instrumentwith Kaestli's voice moving over themand then the rest of the group arrives. After some slowly soothing vocals, a soloist takes over; once Kaestli returns, the ensemble shows up again to fill in the spaces between his phrases. While this format becomes somewhat predictable, it never detracts from the music itself. Bassist Jay Leonhart provides excellent accompaniment during Kaestli's intimate introduction on "It Could Happen To You" and "My Foolish Heart," while saxophonist Joel Frahm provides some sultry soloing on the latter of these tunes and some dreamy playing on "I've Got You Under My Skin," which moves along at a glacial pace.
A curious and slightly sad bass riff underscores "Moonlight In Vermont." Trumpeter Kenny Rampton provides some fine soloing here, but his breathy work on "Day In Day Out" is even better. Drummer Billy Drummond holds it all togetherdemonstrating his tasteful brushwork in many instancesbut the most important musical partner that Kaestli has is guitarist Paul Meyers. His Brazilian-tinged playing on "Day In Day Out" is a highlight here, despite the abrupt and slightly out of sync ending. Later, he proves to be equally enchanting, as he supportsand mixes withKaestli's alluring and user-friendly voice on the title track.
With Invitation, Kaestli gives everybody a front row invite to his gentle, melodically enchanting musings.
Day In Day Out; It Could Happen To You; Invitation; My Foolish Heart; The Island; My Romance; The Nearness Of You; Moonlight In Vermont; I've Got You Under My Skin.
Beat Kaestli: vocals; Billy Drummond: drums; Jay Leonhart: bass; Paul Meyers: guitar; Joel Frahm: saxophone; Kenny Rampton: trumpet.
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