For his eagerly anticipated second album, Faux Bourgeois Café, the outstanding vocalist, songwriter and trumpeter Jason Paul Curtis described his focus in straightforward terms: “I wanted original gypsy-jazz that moves and makes you move.” It definitely is that – and a good bit more. Following up on his highly-acclaimed 2012 debut, Lovers Holiday, Jason serves up a delightful menu of Django-inspired originals, sumptuous ballads, sublime Brazilian and unfettered swing – an ideal soundtrack to the sultry nights of summer.
Returning from the previous album is the brilliant piano-drum tandem of Ray Mabalot and Woody Hume, both members of Jason’s regular trio – along with the remarkable multi-reedman/flautist Dave Schiff. Joining them for this journey are guitarist John Albertson and bassist Ephriam Wolfolk, Jr., both of whose consummate skills contribute powerfully to this extraordinary album. The vast array of distinguished artists with whom these exemplary musicians have performed is a veritable Who’s Who of jazz and popular music, including Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Mel Torme, the Mills Bothers, Buddy Rich, Sonny Stitt, Sir Roland Hanna, Ahmad Jamal, Anita O’Day, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and so many more. Together, these fine artists bring a glowing vitality and a spirited synergy to Jason’s musical vision.
His background in musical theater and opera in his native Texas, coupled with the influences of Nat ‘King’ Cole, Harry Connick Jr. and the Manhattan Transfer – along with a clear touch of Chet Baker and the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra – has resulted in a beautiful vocal style, marked by flawless intonation and impeccable phrasing. But beyond his talents as a singer, Jason’s songwriting and arranging talents are exceptional, as fully evidenced throughout Faux Bourgeois Café. Comprising eight original compositions and two unexpected but perfectly complementary songs, the album is an aural delight from beginning to end, further enhanced by his inspired and compelling lyrics.
The album opens on a vehement gypsy-jazz one-two punch, both of which are stoked by Albertson’s Django-like chords.
Phone is a fiery piece in jump mode, richly syncopated and marked by a jubilant scat vocal/soprano sax call and response. American Gypsyfollows in an unabashedly swinging and playful fashion, with Jason’s muted trumpet punctuating the lyrics. A false ending teases into a swirling frenzy of tastefully overdubbed vocal chorus and raucous klezmer-like clarinet.
In an even more up-tempo groove is Brooklyn July, an infectious hard-swinging jaunt with sizzling solos by guitar, alto sax and piano. Jason’s sparkling lyrics paint a sharply-hewn portrait of the legendary town that reflects both its uniqueness and its continuously transitory state.
What appears to be a gentle ballad morphs into a slithering funk piece with Pane e Vino. Seductive and sinuous, with singing flute obbligato and subtly effective overdub vocal shadowing, Jason tells his story not only with his imaginative lyrics, but with his Spanish style trumpet solo.
Jason’s arrangements for all four of these pieces take a highly modernistic approach, a prime element in Jason’s personal artistic vision.“Look, can’t vocal jazz be visceral and intelligent? There are so manyinteresting ways to sing about contemporary life with energy and wit that can still get you down on the floor.”
Of course, the rich traditions of the vocal form are also important to Jason, as aptly demonstrated by the two pure ballads that are included. Back of My Mind has that late night club feeling that starts out with a Teddy Wilson-esque intro by Mabalot, some Freddie Green-like strumming by Albertson and subtly dynamic brush work by Hume. Jason’s relaxed delivery of his heartfelt lyrics and a deeply soulful tenor solo by Schiff complete the homage to this mode of timeless jazz expression. Another version of jazz balladry is fully at play on Longest Day, a gem of filigreed delicacy and poignant intimacy. With only Mabalot’s touching piano and Wolfolk’s deeply wooded bass in support, Jason offers a heart-wrenching performance, evoking that most sensitive sound of Chet Baker at the end.
Another tender ballad is offered by way of Brazil with Summer Star, a samba that conjures up the feel of a moonlit beach in Rio. Jason’s impassioned vocal met by Schiff’s Getz-like tenor updates the Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto collaborations of half a century ago. A Bossa Nova mood is the heart of Every Time, gentle but insistent and colored by Schiff’s fluttering flute obbligato and his beautifully lyrical solo.
The two non-Curtis originals close out the album. Nino Rota’s theme from The Godfather - Speak Softly Love (lyrics by Larry Kusik) - is re-imagined in a most scintillating manner. Following the clarinet driven intro, the guitar stoked gypsy-jazz style takes over for a vivaciously swinging rendition that simmers and bubbles briskly in a wicked groove.
Another film instigated the final track – the stunning Vangelis score for the science fiction noir classic Bladerunner. Ridley Scott’s futuristic masterpiece had a profound effect on Jason. Although it had less than 20 seconds of screen time, the gorgeous One More Kiss, Dear made a lasting impression. A clear departure from the rest of the album – with its ethereal synthesized backdrop, hypnotic bongos and dreamlike atmosphere – this haunting and dramatic interpretation has been added as a bonus track.
Like this spectacular album, it’s a further sign of the limitless creativity and marvelous imagination of Jason Paul Curtis.
-Marty Kahn, outwardvisions.com
B I O G R A P H Y
On a hot Virginia night in June, 2009, and with only a sound system, a microphone and a suit, Jason performed his first public solo gig. Three hours of Sinatra, Italian and American Songbook later, the stage was set for countless more engagements over the next five years.
Soon, he was performing with DC-area big band, Swing Machine, and in 2010, he founded Swinglab with pianist Ray Mabalot, drummer Woody Hume and Baltimore bassist, John Dahlman.
In 2011, the quartet performed two sets at DC's Twins Jazz and were immediately invited to play the Christmas season at the Gaylord, National Harbor Hotel in Washington, DC. Jason and the band continued with the Gaylord, playing over 64 nights in 2012.
In November, 2012, Jason released his first full-length album, Lovers Holiday. With five originals and two arrangements with Swing Machine, Lovers Holiday received across-the-board critical acclaim and international airplay. Other venues through 2014 have included repeat engagements at Lansdowne Resort (Northern Virginia's largest), Bethesda Blues and Jazz, Blues Alley, The Willard Hotel, with the McLean Orchestra, the National Building Museum, The Metropolitan Club and the White House Holiday Tours in 2012 and 2013.
On June 20, 2014, Jason releases his second full length album,
Faux Bourgeois Cafe, welcoming bassist, Ephriam Wolfolk, Jr, saxophonist Dave Schiff and guitarist John Albertson. Cafe includes eight brand-new songs by Jason.