For his latest album, Grammy winning sax man Kirk Whalum pays homage to what is considered one of jazz’s key romantic albums – the mid sixties collaboration between John Coltrane and the then unknown vocalist Johnny Hartman. The LP featured six lesser known “standards” like Irving Berlin’s ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life’ and Richard Rodger’s ‘You Are Too Beautiful’ and it’s long been one of Whalum’s favourite albums.
To craft his version of the masterpiece, Whalum asked his brother Kevin to handle the vocal parts while pianist John Stoddart was brought in to co-produce and arrange. The trio soon realized that a straight copy would have been redundant, so they rightly decided to place the music in a 21st century context – with arrangements that are based in modern soul, smooth jazz and adult orientated pop and the result is a refined, sophisticated, soporific, achingly romantic yet heady cocktail. Throughout, Kirk Whalum’s sax is as silky and melodic as ever while Kevin’s vocals are understated and sensitive though always confident… try ‘My One And Only Love’ for starters.
To complete the album, Whalum offers covers of four contemporary soul and R&B songs with instrumental versions of Eric Benet’s ‘Spend My Life With You’ and Joe’s ‘I Wanna Know’ being outstanding. The real highlight however is a take on Brandy’s ‘Almost Doesn’t Count’. Here there is a vocal – and it’s taken by the Whalum’s 83 year old uncle Hugh ‘Peanuts’ Whalum who brings an enchanting world-weariness to the cut. He sounds just right and totally believable on this paean to broken hearts. He transforms what was essentially a teen angst anthem into a mature exploration of lost love.
The album gets a high profile release on Valentine’s Day. Let’s hope that lovers who invest in the CD (and they really should) have more luck than poor old “Peanuts” sounds like he had!