Andrew Distel – Vocals and trumpet Peter Martin – Piano Carlos Henriquez – Bass
George Fludas – Drums Dave Onderdonk – Guitar Jim Gailloreto – Woodwinds And several others, including strings
Record Label: JeruJazz Records
With the exception of a few female jazz vocalists, including Cecile McLorin Salvant and Jazzmein Horn, it’s difficult to find anyone who will aggressively venture into Mark Murphy/Betty Carter territory. Probably for good (read: economic) reasons, the most popular vocalists who operate in the jazz/pop arena lean more toward pop. In the male vocalist area, critical listeners recognize the talent of Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter while still longing for a return to the mostly unfettered approach we loved on The Messenger and Close Your Eyes (Elling) and Water (Porter). Elling, at least, will veer off script from time to time in concert, but his most recent recordings—strongly thematic—appeal to those who don’t want their singer to lose convention too easily. As for Porter, as evidenced by his new album, a tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole, the same tendency resides.
The new album by Cincinnati-raised, Chicago-nurtured Andrew Distel, It Only Takes Time, is representative in this way. Postmodern pop singers who dabble in jazz want their audiences to know they haven’t forgotten how to be an authentic American singer. Over a decade ago, Distel released his first album to some acclaim, based more on his expressive alto rather than his trumpet playing. But a comparison of that to the new release evinces growth in several ways, from Distel’s maturing timbre to an effectively enhanced production. This new album is, as well, a demonstration of the breadth of Distel’s vocal talent, but with more nuance and direction. However, it is also telling that Distel had his album release concert party in New York City, not Chicago. Part of the reason, probably, was the need to include musicians who worked on the album, including NYC-based pianist Peter Martin and bassist Carlos Henriquez. But one cannot shake the notion of a parallel to Elling, a Chicago artist who moved East. Like on Kurt’s latest albums, Chicagoans do contribute: Dave Onderdonk plays stellar guitar, Jim Gailloreto supplies woodwinds, Brian Schwab plays trumpet, Raphael Crawford adds trombone, George Fludas expertly drums, Geraldo DeOliviera lends percussion, and Howard Levy sits in for a harmonica solo. Distel suggests he has been listening to Elling all along. The album opener “Speak Low” is delivered in a slightly understated style, with Distel venturing in and out of the melody and phrasing, just like Elling does. The angular vocal is balanced by Bob Bowker and Brian Schwab’s minimalistic, halting production that faintly suggests Anita Baker’s recordings. Some tasty picking by Onderdonk enhances the intimacy. Things remain restrained on “Alfie.” Distel handles the recognizable melody with relaxed grace, as the producers apply strings over Martin’s accompaniment. But it is on the third song, “One Morningstar Away,” where the Elling sensibilities began to heighten. Once again, Distel starts in quiet mode, but the vocal build up off of Martin’s initial theme brought me back to Elling-Hobgood, especially when Distel trails off to let Martin play an extended refrain. Distel tends to hold his notes in same places Elling does, modulating his voice down and up, building drama as the music advances.
Distel likes to sing in Spanish (his first album included three such tunes), so “Amor,” the requisite romantic ballad, comes next, sung softly with lovely Onderdonk Spanish guitar and a touch of strings. Then the album switches gear. Fludas bangs the opening of a pop rhumba, “Wait for Me.” Distel scats the opening of a bop-ish “Who Cares.” Next, a slow down with strings, “Too Soon to Tell”; a spritely rendition of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” with a Distel trumpet solo; and two bluesy jazz pieces led by Henriquez’s bass, “Your Last Song” and “into Each Life” that swing hard and beg for a Michael Buble comparison. Finally, as a coda, Distel and Martin team for a lovely, Broadway-soliloquy- inspired “You Are There.” There’s a touch of cabaret in this singer, and perhaps he should enter that zone more often.
Like the more recognized Elling and Buble, Andrew Distel can sing, alright. The width of his ability is wide. On It Only Takes Time, Distel proves the years between recordings have been spent nurturing relationships with quality musicians. If you enjoy vocal albums with an assortment of genre that reflects the current vocal scene, this is a good one.
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