Just sometimes an album pierces your consciousness, embedding itself like an arrow propelled into a bale of hay. Paul Jost
's Simple Life
is one of that rare breed, a welcome intrusion into the grey matter where emotion and language spark axons. Jost is an expert at both. And a master at unifying diverse and eclectic material. The CD includes two Jost originals and a playlist that runs from classic jazz to contemporary. What brings it all together, in addition to five musical minds in perfect harmony, is the advice of Jost's father that life "is about common sense," keeping it simple and doing the right thing. Take the opener, Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird," introduced by the heartbeat of the group, Dean Johnson on bass. Drummer Tim Horner
splashes right in, pianist Jim Ridl
and special guest Joe Locke
on vibraphone weigh in, setting up Jost's inspired vocals and original brand of scatting. It gets intense. The tune, ostensibly McCartney's statement about race relations in the US with an avian metaphor, may actually reflect Jost's spiritual cleansing and healing as he copes with the contradiction of "the light of the dark black night."
The vocalist takes us from the serious to the playful with the Arlen/Harburg "If I Only Had A Brain," The Wizard of Oz tune of the scarecrow's longing for intelligence, with Jost's wistful harmonica. It's worth noting that the storyline tells its audience that it already has what it needs. That joke is on us.
Joe Locke blends thoughtful lines into these first two tunes and the next two, Duke Ellington
's "Caravan," a 1936 composition, and Fred Neil's 1969 "Everybody's Talkin'" from Midnight Cowboy. The lyrics to "Caravan" are not often sungJost scats his way sweetly through itso it comes as a surprise to learn the theme is actually a love song, as is Ray Noble's 1936 "The Touch of Your Lips," a finely cut gem for the four to show their sparkle. A swing through the Sonny Rollins
composition "No Moe" from 1956 pairs Jost with Johnson's bass.
Three tunes address what Portuguese speakers call "saudade," poetically described by Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil as the "presence of absence." It's often said there are no direct translations, but combining "nostalgia" with "homesickness" may come close. Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," the traditional "Shenandoah," and Jost's own "Bela Tristeza," (beautiful sadness) are examples of the saudade that Portuguese Brazilians claim is only theirs to feel. If that be true, then the Jost family line must reflect Iberian DNA.
It's the simple joys that the song stylist craves in this collection of tunes that have turned up as his mile markers. "A house that rings with joy and laughter and the ones you love inside," is what he tells us in his rendition of "Simple Life." Sounding debonair in spite of himself, Jost nudges his listeners to pay it forward in his short introduction. Then he swings and whistles while the band stretches out, keepers of the jazz flame all. "Everybody's Talkin'" is also a wish for simplicity, albeit more desperately. In the movie Dustin Hoffman's character, Ratso Rizzo, is on a bus to Florida with his new and perhaps only friend, Jon Voight's Joe Buck, as pneumonia overtakes him. But Jost and company use this tune as a vehicle to imagine what a diagnosis of dementia might mean, in his own words, becoming "aware of my own unraveling," as was his inspiration for the arrangement, legendary jazz vocalist Mark Murphy
. Murphy was actually misdiagnosed and died from complications of pneumonia. These are haunting and compelling thoughts translated into musical form. "The Folks Who Live on A Hill," from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1937, and the McCartney/Lennon "With a Little Help from My Friends," dream of innocence, clarity and stability. There's the value of friendship and the unchanging view from their snug cottage on the hill that attract Jost to these tunes. Pianist Ridl is nothing less than inspired on both "Friends" and "Folks"; Johnson on bass and Horner with tender brushes are fully supportive. Jost weaves in harmonica riffs as the rhythm section sings chorus, all very effective.
The closing tune is Jost's own. It's his 1995 "Livin' In The Wrong Time," one that he's sorry is still so relevant. Like Sting's "Driven to Tears," with no less the impact, Jost worries over the homeless, the hungry, the unloved, the lonely. It's as if you're sitting in Gallagher's front row as he smashes watermelons with his Sledge-o-Matic. You're going to get drenched, only it's not so funny when those in a position to do the most good don't.
Paul Jost makes every song so personally his own that it's easy to forget anyone else ever sang them. You'll get wet in the flood of emotions but don't expect a rain poncho to protect you.
Blackbird; If I Only Had A Brain; Caravan; Everybody's Talkin'; Give Me the Simple Life; The Touch of Your Lips; Folks Who Live on the Hill; With A Little Help from My Friends; No Moe; Girl from the North Country; Bela
Tristeza; Shenandoah; Livin' in the Wrong Time.
Paul Jost: Vocal, Harmonica, Guitar; Jim Ridl: Acoustic Piano, Synth; Dean Johnson: Acoustic Bass; Tim Horner:
Drums; Joe Locke: Vibraphone (1,2,3,4).