BIG BAD VOODOO DADDYThis Beautiful Life (Interscope)
BIG BAD VOODOO Daddy's appearance in the 1996 movie Swingers may single-handedly take credit for the popular resurgence of swing music for the under-75 set. While other bands, like Royal Crown Review and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, contributed to the popularity of the swing and cocktail scene, it wasn't until Big Bad Voodoo Daddy contributed the musical backdrop at the Hollywood Derby scene in Swingers that it shot through the roof. The movie became a lifestyle. So what is a band to do when rigor mortis sets in on a scene that it helped to create? Like the captain of the Exxon Valdez, you throw back a couple of strong ones and go down with the ship. Lacking the sincerity and modernity of their debut self-titled CD, This Beautiful Life attempts to take a harder look at the influences that inspired them (Gerry Mulligan, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, The Count Basie Orchestra) and in the process loses the appeal the band had gained with a younger generation of listeners. "Big and Bad" comes off sounding like a caricature of a swing anthem à la Whose Line is it Anyway? "Big Time Operator" incorporates an old school New Orleans Mardis Gras sound; while it's toe-tappin' fun, singer/songwriter Scotty Morris hams it up enough to make you blush. The redeeming qualities of This Beautiful Life belong to "I'm Not Sleepin,'" "2000 Volts," and the sappy yet loveable "Sleep Tight." These alone make the CD worth inspecting.
-- Danielle Fox
JEWELJoy: A Holiday Collection (Atlantic)
QUIZ TIME: WOULD you rather have Jewel (a) make a fool out of Merle Haggard on TV; (b) publish another volume of her insipid grade-school poetry; (c) launch her heaving bosom toward the silver screen; or (d) be given a good beat-down by her pimp? Not only does the Pinched-Faced One mangle even the easy ones (unnecessarily Mariah Carey-o-fying "Joy To The World"; playing "Rudolph" for unintentional laughs via a duet with Nedra Carroll that sounds like Bette Midler mincing with Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie"; giving you flashbacks to A Chipmunk Christmas during "Silent Night"), she has the absolute gall to enter her own material into the X-mas idiom. "Face Of Love" is harmless enough, forgettable Nashville-MOR-by-numbers. But by recasting her noxious hit "Hands" as an orchestrally lush, seasonal anthem, she earns that beat-down. "If I could tell the world just one thing/ It would be that we're all okay," she listlessly bleats. Whatever, Jewel, nevermind.
Interestingly, just the other night on KXCI an otherwise very good local gal singer was heard hoofing her way through Jewel's unspeakably cloying hit "You Were Meant For Me," and it struck me at the time that in the "hands," so to speak -- "under the influence" -- of Jewel, even the most well-meaning performer sounds foolish. Here's hoping an entire generation of impressionable young vocalists doesn't adopt the Poster Gal For Mundane as their role model.
-- Fred Mills
CHARLES KYNARDLegends of Acid Jazz (Prestige)
CHARLES KYNARD, AN unheralded master of the Hammond B-3 organ, deserves further scrutiny. Although not as well known as acid-jazz contemporaries like Jimmy Smith, Richard "Groove" Holmes and Jimmy McGriff, Kynard richly deserves a spot alongside these keyboard giants. His approach was loose, soulful and downright sexual.
The Prestige label's exemplary on-going "Legends of Acid Jazz" series compiles two of Kynard's funkiest albums, Afro-Disiac (featuring guitar phenom Grant Green) and Wa-Tu-Wa-Zui, both recorded in 1970. The definitive highlight of Afro-Disiac is "Odds On," a funky grits-and-gravy workout that begins with Green's dynamic six-string thrust, and intensifies through each successive solo. Master boogaloo drummer Bernard Purdie displays transcendental stick work with funky, fat back strokes, but he never overpowers the tasteful licks flying from Kynard's molten hot organ or Houston Person's scorching tenor sax breaks. Guitarist Melvin Sparks' graceful instrumental fireworks on the title track of Wa-Tu-Wa-Zui will leave you forgetting about Green, with single-note solos that were some of the finest found on late '60s/early '70s acid jazz recordings. "Zebra Walk" uncovers Kynard at the electric piano where his helter-skelter theme is complimented nicely by the lush saxophone work of Rusty Bryant and Sparks' indomitable guitar technique. On the nearly 10-minute jungle safari expedition of "Something," Kynard and Purdie are the only soloists fighting for bragging rights, while "Change Up" is a minor-chord blues number where everyone involved briefly steals the spotlight from the under-recognized Kynard.
-- Ron Bally
VARIOUS ARTISTSBlue Bacharach: A Cooler Shaker (Blue Note)
IT'S ODD TO hear an improvisational powerhouse like Stanley Turrentine corral himself reverently to the structure of "This Guy's In Love With You." Elsewhere, guitarist Grant Green and singer Nancy Wilson also tone down their skills in the presence of Bacharach's strong compositions. Was Blue Note attempting to churn out lite jazz with its roster of heavyweights? One wonders what might have happened if the Blue Note crew more frequently stretched out on the infectious choruses, as happens here on organist Reuben Wilson's version of "I Say A Little Prayer" and Grant Green's soulful instrumental version of "Wives And Lovers" (void of the sexist lyrics and far better than his take of "I'll Never Fall In Love Again"). Flawed though it is, this Bacharach tribute works as well as Stan Getz's The Look Of Love from 1967, or McCoy Tyner's What The World Needs Now recorded 30 years later. Bacharach's stuff is compositionally challenging, and though it may take a few more years, his catalog will become standards for future players, thankfully replacing the beat-to-death Gershwin and Porter classics.
-- Dave McElfresh