Jazz gets reborn (again) with Jeff Goldblum

Sunday, November 10, 2019 - 4:29pm

NOSELL

Flickr / Decca Records

“There may be trouble ahead,” Sharon Van Etten warns us — and certainly when it comes to Jeff Goldblum, one can always expect a spark of mischief. Right off the bat, his new album makes a bold promise to secrecy and playful roguishness. Between Van Etten’s ominous vocal opening, and the title of his new album, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, there certainly seems to be something special in store. Please, Jeff, tell us more — or rather, tell us anyway! As always, we welcome Goldblum’s brand of trouble with open arms.

For those of you wondering: Jeff Goldblum and jazz — what the heck? Here’s a quick recap in the wacky misadventures of everyone’s favorite “Jurassic Park” hot scientist: The suspect was last seen here within the pages of the Arts section for a review of his 2018 debut album, The Capitol Studio Sessions with The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. As Goldblum’s first public foray into jazz performance, the album — a mix of traditional smokey-jazz club and stand up comedy — featured a range of performers, from the hypnotic vocals of Haley Reinhart to the witty quips of comedian Sarah Silverman. 

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This does a good job of recycling what worked well in The Capitol Studio Sessions without bogging the album down with boring repetition. What made Goldblum’s debut remarkable was his ability to meld comedy and music in a single album; he comedy didn’t intrude upon the act of musical performance, and neither did Goldblum take himself too seriously. Alongside good-natured, witty chit-chat between songs — The Capitol Studio Sessions was a live recording — the album managed to add some much-needed life to a genre considered to be “dying,” if not dead already. 

Just as he did the first time around, Goldblum finds his stride is the core foundation of his revitalization of classic hits with a modern touch. I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This features a range of covers with a more robust roster of celebrity guests: From big names like pop-icon Miley Cyrus and Sharon Van Etten, to more obscure artists Fiona Apple and Gregory Porter, Goldblum invests in greater artistic diversity on his second run. Like a classic Hollywood blockbuster, half the fun of the album comes from Goldblum’s class of musical A-listers — who wouldn’t want to hear Miley Cyrus sing her version of blues legend B.B. King’s songs? 

Goldblum also nails the tricky tightrope walk between nostalgic indulgence and reinvention. Nearly every song on the album is a cover, but each cover is able to stand on its own. “Let’s Face The Music and Dance,” the opening song in the album, features Sharon Van Etten’s slow, honey-dripping voice. A touch ominous and romantic, Van Etten flips the tables by emphasizing the somber undertones of the lyrics, rather than the traditional upbeat, energetic versions of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. More significantly, the song recalls a famous scene of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s 1963 movie “Follow the Fleet.” In sorrowful serenade, Astaire coaxes Rogers into a final dance, all parts romantic, longing and beautiful. As Rogers and Astaire spin across the stage, coming together and then falling apart just as quickly, Van Etten’s version of the classic “Let’s Face The Music and Dance” captures the tragic essence of Rogers and Astaire’s original version.

The fun doesn’t stop there: Other notable songs (and there are many) include “The Sidewinder/The Beat Goes On,” featuring the vocals of Inara George. Bright and energetic, George’s wispy, alluring voice totally transforms this all-too-familiar hit into a convincing old-time swing song. Famously performed by Sonny and Cher in 1967, “The Beat Goes On” wasn’t originally a jazz tune — until Jeff Goldblum came along, that is. “Make Someone Happy,” featuring Gregory Porter, offers an uplifting spin on a melancholy song through Porter’s earnest, rich vocals and the smile-inducing backup singers who chime in throughout.

Goldblum’s cheerful, somewhat eccentric spirit is infused to the very essence of his new album — just like the last and, I’m sure, like the next one too. Last time I wrote of Goldblum, I noted that fun is what permeates Goldblum’s music — and fun is everywhere to be found in I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, too. When it comes to reviving a genre — jazz is so much more than a genre — Goldblum may be exactly what we need. Fun is what jazz is, and fun is what might just “save” jazz from the dark clutches of becoming yet another “Ew, that’s something my parents like, no thanks!” Maybe what Goldblum “shouldn’t be telling us” is that jazz, like a lot of old things, can be cool. Moreover, it can be ours. While we spend our limited time on Earth fighting every war we can find, there is still life to be enjoyed. Maybe in the great generational clash of the 21st century, we can find some common ground in jazz. After all, “while there’s music, and moonlight /And love and romance / Let’s face the music and dance.”