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Jim Self: My America 2: Destinations

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Jim Self: My America 2: Destinations
Tuba maestro Jim Self's My America 2: Destinations is a successor of sorts to the album My America, recorded and released some twenty years before, also on Self's Basset Hound label. While personnel has inevitably changed (only trombonist Bill Booth returns from that earlier album), Self has employed the services of the same arranger, Kim Scharnberg—and thank goodness for that! Although Self and his eleven-member supporting cast acquit themselves well, it is Scharnberg's ingenious charts that make this engine run.

"Chicago" played Dixie-style? Yes indeed, and that's just for starters. Elsewhere, Scharnberg deftly blends Mike Stoller's R&B standard "Kansas City" with Richard Rodgers' song of that name from Oklahoma!, Roger Miller's "King of the Road" with Bobby Troup's "Route 66," and Miller's "Blue Bayou" with trumpeter Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," rescores the Glenn Miller hit "Chattanooga Choo Choo" as hip-hop boogie woogie, and hauls John Philip Sousa's "Washington Post" march into the twenty-first century as "Washington Postmodern" (complete with an intro from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Unlike My America, whose songs were pure Americana and whose ports of call were incidental ("Tennessee Waltz," "California Here I Come," "Pennsylvania 6-5000" among them), Destinations was conceived with specific cities, states or areas in mind. Besides those already named, they include Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.," Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," James Hanley's "Back Home in Indiana," George Cory's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind" (marvelously recited by Self and pianist Bill Cunliffe) and Self's lone original, the funky "S.L.O. Blues" (a bow to his home in San Luis Opispo, CA).

Of course, even the best of charts are no better than the musicians chosen to unravel them, and Self couldn't have wished for more capable and empathetic sidemen. Almost everyone has at least one moment in the solo spotlight, no one is less than admirable, and everyone dives happily into whatever groove Scharnberg endorses. Trombonist Scott Whitfield, soprano Tom Peterson and trumpeter Ron Stout set the swinging compass on "Chicago," presaging impressive statements by Cunliffe, guitarists John Chiodini and Steve Fister, alto Phil Feather, bassist Ken Wild, drummer Kendall Kay, Peterson (on tenor) and trombonist Booth (who is showcased on "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"). As for Self, he makes the guttural and unwieldy tuba sing, and solos as well on the hybrid fluba ("New York State of Mind," "S.L.O. Blues").

Self refers to My America as a "novelty" album, whereas My America 2 is about as far from gimmickry as a jazz recording can be. Even though the charts may be whimsical and unique, the musicians take them quite seriously, and the result is an album that surprises and charms from start to finish. As this is being written in January 2023, there is a long way to go before the year ends; even so, it would not be presumptuous to assume that My America 2 might appear on more than one reviewer's yearly Top Ten list.

Track Listing

Chicago; By the Time I Get to Phoenix; Kansas City; New York State of Mind; King of Route 66; Blue Bayou Bossa; I Love L.A.; Back Home in Indiana; Chattanooga Choo Choo; I Left My Heart in San Francisco; Washington Postmodern; Georgia on My Mind; S.L.O. Blues.

Personnel

Album information

Title: My America 2: Destinations | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Bassett Hound Records

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