An album of covers in
smooth or contemporary jazz has the potential for boredom. But when the
arrangements are distinct and the songs aren’t your typical remakes, the
results can be fun and exciting. So enters the Randy Hoexter Group with
Fromage (Rhombic Records, 2012).
For one thing, pianist Hoexter took on some “cheesy” pop songs, a
challenge within itself. And what he and his supporting cast do with
this cheese is deliciously nutritious. Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy
Haslip, guitarist Trey Wright, saxophonist Sam Skelton, trombonist Eric
Alexander and percussionists Kit Chatham (congas, djembe and cajon) and
Eric Sanders (triangle and shaker) are part of the ensemble. Drum duties
are split by Tom Knight and Dave Weckl. Mike Barry and Gordon Vernick
split the load on trumpet. And vocalist Angie Driscoll appears on two
Driscoll sings the chorus on the highly energetic adaptation of the
sappy Debby Boone hit, “You Light Up My Life.” Instead of a sugary,
romantic ballad, this arrangement is heavy on percussion, with a little
soulful sass thrown in, aided by Skelton’s soprano sax solo.
“Muskrat Love” is injected with a Latin
vibe, perhaps a cheesy salsa dip. The horn section carries the melody
with strong support from Haslip and Weckl.
Hoexter and friends employ a variety of jazz approaches to these songs,
many of which placed their respective recording artists into the class
of one-hit wonders. Among them were Boone, Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the
Sun”) and Rupert Holmes (“Escape – The Pina Colada Song”). Inspired by
The River, Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell, Hoexter
interviewed fellow musicians and did some research. Among his sources
are humorist Dave Barry’s 1997 Book of Bad Songs, an article by James
Sullivan under the heading, “The enduring appeal of an abominable pop
song,” and worst-songs surveys.
Not that the tracks here were bad songs. But many of them had
nonsensical lyrics, or their dark lyrics contradicted the sappy, happy
sounds. And some had neither of these flaws, yet still were cheesy, like
Cher’s “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” and The Captain and Tennille’s