From his stint in “Jurassic Park” as a sharp-tongued mathematician to his more recent role in Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” as The Grandmaster, Jeff Goldblum has grown to be a true pop-culture icon. The addition of “jazz musician” to Goldblum’s vibrant and diverse roster is more than fitting. His new album with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, The Capital Studios Sessions, is like a long lost perfect puzzle piece — the world didn’t know it needed Jeff Goldblum singing and performing jazz with Sarah Silverman and Haley Reinhart until he gave it to them. While Goldblum doesn’t reinvent jazz the way one might expect (many consider jazz to be a “dying” genre in need of reinvention or a merciful death), he capitalizes on the advantages of jazz as a genre of live performance. The result is a strange yet delightful mixture of satisfying jazz riffs, velvet-smooth vocals and playful humor.
The album is comprised of 14 songs, a mix of familiar hits and new material. Sometimes it can be a gamble to reprise “the classics,” especially when it comes to jazz. A genre dependent on originality, innovation and passion, a modern cover can come off as flat, boring and repetitive. But while there is certainly a strong sense of familiarity throughout the album with most of the songs being covers of jazz and swing classics from the ’30s and ’40s, like “Cantaloupe Island,” “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” “I Wish I Knew” and more, somehow Goldblum and his orchestra avoid the usual pitfall of over-cooking the old hits. Part of this comes from the alluring, intimate vocals of Haley Reinhart — she shines in particular in “Gee Baby” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” On the other hand, the humorous flirtation and easy exchanges between Goldblum and Reinhart turn the performances into something fun and casual, brightening some of the characteristic heaviness of the dark, smoky jazz club vibes.
The music alone is good. “Cantaloupe Island” opens the album with some impressive saxophone solos, and Goldblum proves his metal as a musician on the piano. The ensemble keeps a solid beat going, and there is an undeniable sense of joy and satisfaction from a quality jazz performance. Goldblum even treats the audience to some of his own vocals in a duet with Sarah Silverman, “Me and My Shadow,” which is an odd combination of jazz, comedy and a bit of Broadway-style flair. The original song was a duet between Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., but Goldblum and Silverman adapt the lyrics to fit a modern context, including some playful jabs like “we’ll change that name Redskins, is that such a chore?” and lighthearted banter, with Silverman and Goldblum remarking that the trumpet solo is like “a knife cutting hot butter” — which led to a discussion about the safety of leaving butter out to melt mid-song. The duet ends on a high note with Goldblum throwing in a nod to “Jurassic Park,” playing the movie’s theme on the piano. Silverman prays she won’t get eaten — Goldblum “calms” her fears with a playful “dinosaur growl.” At times Silverman and Goldblum leave something to be desired in passable but ultimately lackluster singing. However, while the duo may not be destined for the top of the charts anytime soon, their humor and oddball dynamic swoop in to save the day.
What saves the album from fading into obscurity alongside other attempted revivals of jazz and swing is the fact that the album is comprised solely of live recordings. Rather than simply producing yet another cover of a Nina Simone hit, Goldblum adds a distinct, fresh “Goldblum touch” to the performance with his side quips, banter and touch of silliness. Goldblum reminds the audience and performers that jazz, and music in general, doesn’t have to be so serious. A song can be good without necessarily being revolutionary or dripping with overdone dramatics. Sometimes music can just be fun. And at its core, that’s what Goldblum’s album is — fun. The image the album conveys is that of a couple of friends messing around, having fun and just enjoying the music. It’s this easy-going simplicity that makes Goldblum’s album a good one. No one says it better than Goldblum himself when he calls out to Silverman, “Let’s do the ending again, I love that ending!” Music for the love of it, that’s what Goldblum’s album is all about. Everything else aside, the album is worth a listen, if only for some fun, some jazz and to hear Jeff Goldblum imitate an oddly sexy T-Rex in a spin on the classics of the swing and jazz masters.