Songs of Life
December 9, 2016
Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
What is particularly exciting about Scott Morgan’s debut CD Songs of Life on Miranda Music is how much scope he covers by way of contemporary and traditional territory. Singing in a sweet and supple baritone with fine phrasing, the disc is a collaboration with jazz pianist royalty Fred Hersch who is the arranger.
His distinct piano style is prominent throughout this special album. Making a debut recoding and singing with a jazz legend like Hersch at the piano might prove intimidating to a singer. However, Morgan easily holds his own and the CD flows well with musical harmony and a vocal line that is compelling and warm throughout.
Kicking it off with a swinging “It’s You or No One” (Cahn/Styne), Morgan slides through this like a boy singer from the ‘forties. The beautifully phrased “Little Prayer” is a tribute to the late Dave Catney, who wrote the song, and is cleverly fused with a languid “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (Lerner/Loewe). This is a serious highlight. James Taylor’s “Secret o’ Life” is given an articulate, driving and effective treatment on this tricky song that calls for some well-honed phrasing and musicianship and builds nicely. A second Taylor gem, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” is given a bright, jazz-tinged arrangement. Hersch’s own “Lazin’ Around” is so smooth and relaxed one can almost feel the heat on a sweltering day.
Both Morgan and Hersch wisely steer away from over-sentimentality and, instead, deliver a thoughtful encomium. Singing here with an expressive, strong delivery, Morgan sparkles on one of the album’s best cuts. The Paul McCartney “I Will,” which closes the album, is expressive as Morgan offers this great story song with conviction on another solid cut.
While off to a fine recording start, at times Morgan’s baritone calls for just a bit more heft, as on “Like a Lover” by the Bergmans and Dori Caymmi and Nelson Motta, and on a slightly dirge-like “Lost in the Stars” (Anderson/Weill). At times, there is a restrained sameness where more dynamics would strengthen the cut even more.
Minor quibbles aside, Scott Morgan delivers impressively on this first recording effort. At times, Hersch overrides the singer through his sheer brilliance as a jazz musician. It is to his credit and moxie that Morgan holds his own as well, and recorded with such a powerhouse. Even more to his credit, he paces himself well, shows a lot of class, and the duo clicks repeatedly. This is a significant start with a good team and, hopefully, there will be more.
Other musicians: Matt Aronoff (bass) and Ross Pederson (drums). Joel Frahm (tenor sax) and singer Janis Siegel also appear on the album.