Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Jazz Fans Will All Find Something To Enjoy About Matt Barber’s New Covers Set

Late last month, jazz vocalist Matt Barber released his latest record, The Song Is You, through his independent label, MB Records.  The 12-song record is one more of so many covers compilations released so far this year and while its featured songs do not necessarily break any new ground in terms of the arrangements themselves or in the bigger picture of the year’s new covers sets, it does prove itself worth hearing at least once.  One of the most notable of the covers featured in this collection is that of ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).’  This cover will be examined shortly.  The set’s penultimate entry, the Barber’s cover of the timeless ‘Moon River,’ is another piece worth examining.  It will be discussed a little later.  Barber’s take of ‘I Remember You’ is another piece worth examining and will also be discussed later.  Each composition noted here does its own part to make The Song Is You interesting.  When they are considered alongside the rest of the record’s entries, the whole makes the collection in whole worth hearing at least once.

The Song Is You, the recently released covers compilation from jazz vocalist Matt Barber, is not a groundbreaker among this year’s field of covers sets but is still worth hearing at least once.  Each of its featured covers makes that clear in its own way.  One of the songs that makes that clear is the early entry, ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).’  Originally recorded in 1934 by Brooks Bowman and popularized by Hal Kemp, it has also been covered by the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Stan Getz.  The original composition recorded by Kemp and his orchestra is a wonderfully warm big band work from the earliest era of big band.  The trombone and muted trumpet work alongside what sounds like either a guitar or piano and clarinets to make the whole so rich and immersive even though it tops off at barely more than a minute in length.  Barber’s rendition meanwhile stretches out that run time to nearly six minutes and turns it on its ear with a much more symphonic approach in a gentler bossa nova style arrangement.  It is a stark contrast to the song made so popular all those decades ago by Kemp and company.  Barber’s vocals are so gentle and flowing here but thankfully never to the level of some schmaltzy lounge lizard.  The warmth and richness exhibited throughout the song — thanks to the string arrangement at its heart, and the flugelhorn that compliments the strings – makes the song just as immersive, engaging and entertaining as in the original composition.  It points out in its own way why the record is worth hearing.

Another song that shows what this collection has to offer comes much later in the record’s 47-minute run time in the form of the cover of ‘Moon River.’  Perhaps most well-known for its inclusion in the soundtrack to the 1961 Audrey Hepburn classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it was originally recorded a year prior by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.  Their rendition of the timeless song helped to revive Hepburn’s career at the time as she was the one who actually performed the song in the noted movie.  There was no lip synching involved.  The almost call and response of the strings against the other instruments and the choral style vocals was something that was so commonplace among movies of the era.  That included standard movies and musicals.  It’s that saccharine sweet style approach that is schmaltzy in its own right yet so endearing.  Barber’s rendition meanwhile is much more stripped down by comparison.  It is just the quartet of him, pianist Bradley Young (who also produced the compilation), bassist Brian Ward and drummer Greg Sadler.  Sadler’s gentle use of the brushes on the snare as he keeps time and Ward’s steady bass line works so fluidly with Young’s work on the keys to make the whole actually something of an improvement on the original, believe it or not.  The whole really lives up to the old adage that less truly is more.  What’s more it is just one more example of what makes this collection worth hearing, even if only once.  The cover of ‘I Remember You’ is yet another example of what makes the set worth hearing.

Originally composed in 1941 by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer, it was popularized the same year by Tommy Dorsey and featured shortly after in the hit 1942 movie, The Fleet’s In (which starred screen legend William Holden).  Since its premiere more than eight decades ago, it has gone on to be covered multiple times over by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Campbell, and Tony Bennett just to name a handful of well-known figures.  The rendition made famous by Dorsey and his orchestra is a light, bouncy composition yet so controlled at its heart.  Listeners could argue there is something of a slight samba approach to the song even with its light ballroom swing fully audible.  It is a song that is sure to engage and entertain listeners.  Barber and company stay largely true to the source material in their take on the song, just in a much more minimalist approach once again.  Instead of the full big band presentation from Dorsey and his orchestra, Barber is accompanied here by Ward and Sadler once again on bass and drums respectively.  Tony Guerrero and Don Amarillo join the group on flugelhorn and guitar respectively to make the group a septet this time.  Even in their performances, the musicians are controlled in their presentations even as they make the most of their time in the proverbial limelight.  The result of each musician’s work is a composition that creates something of an easy listening style song yet is still engaging and entertaining in its own right as it creates its own identity.  It really is an interesting presentation in its own right even in comparison to other covers of the classic song.  It is just one more example of what makes The Song Is You listenable.  When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the record’s entries, the whole makes the set a compilation that is worth hearing at least once.

The Song Is You, the new compilation from Matt Barber, does not break any new ground within this year’s field of new covers compilations.  That aside, it is still a presentation that most audiences will find interesting.  That is proven from the beginning to the end of the collection with each cover.  While the covers do not necessarily break a lot of new ground from their source material (or in comparison to other covers of the songs) they are still engaging and entertaining.  The songs examined here make that clear.  When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole of the record makes the set a presentation that jazz fans will find worth hearing at least once.

The Song is You is available now through Barber’s own independent label, MB Records.  More information on the compilation is available along with all of Barber’s latest news at: