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"Easy listening" is a term that's often associated with bland, tepid material which serves as background fodder in supermarkets and shopping malls, but the term isn't negative by nature. Easy listening has a positive side, and Peter Eldridge's Mad Heaven is the proof. Eldridge packages charming pieces in an easy-to-swallow format that belies the sophistication behind his music, and provides an easy-on-the-ears entrance point into the world of modern jazz vocals.
Eldridge's arranging skills have always been second to none, and he demonstrates this time and again throughout this Brazilian-tinged album. Sometimes he deftly mixes alto flute and accordion textures into the music, while on other pieces he features deep horn backgrounds, with baritone saxophone and bass trombone bolstering the music. Background vocals, as delivered by a who's who of the most prominent vocalists in jazz today (Kate McGarry and Lauren Kinhan ), are anything but pedestrian, and Eldridge provides all of the polished lead vocals that have come to characterize his work.
While a similar vibe hovers over all of this material, Eldridge comes at the music in different ways. "Charmer" and "Buffet Philosophy" are delivered with a posturing attitude, and they're covered with the Steely Dan-esque veneer that has occasionally been connected to the vocalist's work. "Buffet also stands out for Alan Ferber's big-toned bass trombone solo, while "The Very Thought Of You" is re-harmonized and given new life, as Eldridge's mellifluous voice takes it in a more modern direction. Amy Cervini and Rondi Charleston provide supportive background vocals along the way, and Joel Frahm's silk-spun saxophone lines are a treat.
While the arrangements occasionally threaten to overshadow Eldridge's vocals, he delivers homeruns when he has more room to breathe ("I Forgot To Laugh" and "No Tomorrow"), and when he croons in Portuguese ("Voce e Eu" and "Prá Machucar Meu Coração"). Keith Ganz's acoustic guitar solos add to the immediacy of the music on "Voce e Eu" and "No Tomorrow," and Eldridge's deep and resonant vocals on "Prá Machucar Meu Coração" show off a different side of his voice.
Some people might argue with the "easy listening" tag, regardless of the positive connotation it carries here, but it's an undeniable truth that Peter Eldridge's jazz-pop proclivities and Brazilian bona fides are on full display throughout the inviting music of Mad Heaven.
Track Listing: On Second Thought (Prelude); Charmer; Voce e Eu; Buffet Philosophy; I Forgot To Laugh; Mad Heaven; No Tomorrow; Prá Machucar Meu Coração; Warm December; Betty's Bossa (Chamego); Someone To Light Up My Life; The Very Thought Of You.
Personnel: Peter Eldridge: piano, vocals; Keith Ganz: guitar; Tim Lefebvre: acoustic bass; Ben Wittman: drums, percussion; James Shipp: percussion, vibraphone; Joe Frahm: tenor saxophone (1, 10-12); Darmon Meader: tenor saxophone (9), vocals (9); Marc Shulman: electric guitar (2, 5, 9); Chris Cheek: baritone saxophone (2, 4); Alan Ferber: bass trombone (2, 4); Kate McGarry: vocals (2, 6, 9); Lauren Kinhan: vocals (2, 5, 9); Jo Lawry: vocals (4-6); Amy Cervini: vocals (12); Rondi Charleston: vocals (12); Gil Goldstein: accordion (3, 7); Aaron Heick: alto flute (3, 7).
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.