More than a year ago, Walt Disney Records released a soundtrack to little fanfare within the general music community, but rightfully deserves some attention. Collect a bunch of famous Disney tunes and gather some jammin’ jazz artists. Spin the two together and your creation is an awesome assortment of standards breathing new energy. Here is my review of Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants To Be A Cat.
1. “Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat” by Roy Hargrove: The Grammy-winning trumpeter lends his potent musical skills into mixing up this classic tune from The Aristocats. While the first minute or so of the five-minute cover closely resembles the jazzy piece, he then spins some impressive arrangements. I could imagine listening to this strong instrumentation in a coffeehouse or lounge. Though it steers off in a different direction for much of the entirety, Hargrove returns to the memorable theme toward the end.
2. “Chim Chim Cher-Ee” by Esperanza Spalding: The artist who prevailed over teen sensation Justin Bieber at the 2011 Grammys as the “Best New Artist” adeptly takes control over the Sherman Brothers’ legendary melody. The orchestration possesses a French flair, with some light piano and accordion in the background at different points. Spalding scats with beautiful range in this romantic version that still stirs up a chilling sensation. Guesses are that if Dick Van Dyke has heard Spalding’s take on the piece, he would be pretty proud.
3. “Some Day My Prince Will Come” by Dave Brubeck: Piano takes center stage in this cover, which also eventually incorporates some drumming. At times this is much livelier than the sometimes hopeful-yet-somber song we all know from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Brubeck’s piano-playing inspires with enthusiastic finesse. The buoyant control manages to carry this from start to finish. To think Brubeck is a nonagenarian and can accomplish this truly amazes me.
4. “Find Yourself” by Regina Carter: I would have never expected Brad Paisley’s country piece from Cars to be included on this essentially-jazz album, but Carter directs this successfully, suggesting sentimentality with gorgeous violin skills. Carter and her fellow musicians take the narrative from Paisley and evolve into something that sounds like it could come from Spain, France, China or Africa, thanks to the accomplished instrumental work that takes you to different regions of the world. What a masterful job at transforming a song that many had forgotten about and masterfully reinvent it.
Violonist Regina Carter has wowed audiences with her impressive musical skills.
5. “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” by Joshua Redman: Thanks to the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction, I have heard countless arrangements of Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated song, in a variety of genres. Saxophonist Redman slowly and thoughtfully strays off from Newman’s version toward the middle in a showcase of wonderful style, but it’s too brief, as he soon revisits the hummable tune we all know and love. Redman’s grace is ever-clear, but he does not take enough authority to make this his own.
6. “He’s A Tramp” by Dianne Reeves: This singer’s voice is as lush as they come, and the multiple Grammy-winning artist perfectly suits ruling over one of Disney’s most memorable jazzy ditties. Peggy Lee imparted attractive vocals and confidence to this, first heard in Lady and the Tramp, and Reeves could not be a better match. Reeves holds a breadth of range in her vocals, from the light wistfulness of lyrics like “he’s a rover” to the deeper richness found in scorching lyrics like “I wish I could travel his way.” Fantastic piano-playing, drumming and bass work complement Reeves. Though Lee’s version was about half this length, I enjoyed every second of this sweet melody clocking in just under five minutes.
7. “Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag)” by Kurt Rosenwinkel: Why not take an electric guitarist to command a Mary Poppins piece? Rosenwinkel affords a moderately-contemporary vibe on his take, which certainly carries over cues from the Sherman Brothers’ song. There is an equal balance of respectful nods and interesting improvisation, helping Rosenwinkel achieve what a cover should accomplish in reminding listeners that in the right hands, a song has the potential to be successfully adapted with such effortless elegance. Props to the moving bass and piano melody as well.
8. “Gaston” by The Bad Plus: The jazz trio of pianist, bassist and drummer start out playing the villain song from Beauty and the Beast with quiet reflection before switching gears and going into full-throttle. With a forceful wave of oomph, The Bad Plus makes the dysfunctional appear functional. What a magnificent combination of swing and waltz that stays on course in matching parts of Alan Menken’s arrangement, but spinning it up into a routine of heavy volume confusion. It’s almost exhausting to listen to, especially at the end. All the throbbing might concludes in a simple manner, quite a contrast to just seconds earlier. Mayhem never sounded so controlled.
The Bad Plus magnetizes listeners with their dynamic instrumental style.
9. “Alice In Wonderland” by The Dave Brubeck Trio, featuring Roberta Gambarini: “Alice In Wonderland” conveys consideration and hopefulness, much in part to Gambarini’s vocals that transported me as a listener to a magical time of yonder. A star performance by the Italian vocalist and backed by Brubeck’s trio of piano, bass and drums, this sweet calmness easily shifts into swing. Gambarini scats some here, fitting the fun and carefree tone quite well. Brubeck’s trio takes over toward the four-minute mark, displaying their skill, before the honeyed Gambarini comes back. Six minutes of magic.
10. “The Bare Necessities” by Alfredo Rodriguez: First it’s a piano ballad with fine playing and then it’s a dabbling of rhythmic rock with percussion. Rodriguez dabbles in each in his rendition of the song from The Jungle Book. He throws in the familiar tune, but shines most when he dabbles to his own beat. His piano-playing is an unstoppable movement of jazz, a jovial exercise in extraordinary music. Though I enjoyed his spin of the tune more than the actual “Bare Necessities” theme, it almost seemed to stray too far off from the title. Nothing wrong with that, as a cover should aim to be distinct, but perhaps it was too dissimilar. At over seven minutes, this felt a little long, yet I was thoroughly impressed throughout and believed Rodriguez closed the familiar beat on a solid note.
11. “It’s A Small World” by Nikki Yanofsky: I guess it wouldn’t be a Disney jazz album without a rendition of the most hummable song of all time. Yanofsky, a young Canadian pop star, delivers in every sense of the word with her cool vocals to this Sherman Brothers standard. A whole big band is prominently displayed in this massive orchestration of talent. A dabbling of scatting leads to a crescendo that takes us back to the repetitive theme. She playfully arranges the lyrics with a good amount of humor with lines like “It’s not too big.” The music descends faster than you would expect, which is somewhat disappointing because of how entertaining this moves, but I was awed.
12. “Belle” by Gilad Hekselman: As “Belle” is perhaps one of my favorite songs, I was hoping Hekselman would not vary the melody too much, yet insert his own touch. He accomplished just that perfectly. The jazz guitarist maintains Menken’s rhythm for the first few minutes before varying it, set to a mixture of bass and percussion. Like “The Bare Necessities” version by Rodriguez, Hekselman does a fine job in leading the alterations, but it veers pretty far off further along. The five minute mark brings everything back together.
With his electric guitar, Gilad Hekselman offers a powerful flair of technique.
13. “Circle of Life” by Mark Rapp: The trumpeter guides the familiar theme of “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, sounding grand and also original. The keyboarding was quite a nice touch, lending a bit of a 60s nostalgic feel. This is certainly out of place, but not discomforting to the ears by any means. This sounds quite majestic, but there’s nothing especially unique that would make me remember this version.
If you’re not up to purchasing the entire album, be sure to download these selections: “Chim Chim Cher-Ee,” “Find Yourself,” “He’s A Tramp,” “Gaston,” and “Alice In Wonderland.”
There are no worthless entries in this mix, as this first volume of Disney Jazz demonstrates that with the right selection of musicians on board to perform appropriate tunes, the legendary standards can morph from old school to definitely cool.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Return back next week for another edition of Disney In Depth. Catch alerts for upcoming editions of the column by following me on Twitter. Have a good week!