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Nothing But Blue Sky by Chris Humphrey

How many other Chris Humpheys are there who raise a family, buy a house, perform when they can, inspire future generations through teaching to share his passion for music, write and arrange some songs when the occasion presents itself, and develop intriguing creative ideas that may go unheard by broad audiences? Fortunately, now that he has reached forty years of age, Humphrey has recorded his first album and is sharing his talent through the distribution by a respected jazz label. Obviously, high-profile jazz musicians already knew of Humphrey's talent, though previously un-recorded. He has started at the top with an outstanding back-up group consisting of pianist Mark Shilansky, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Matt Wilson. Not that Humphrey performed totally locally in Maine, where he teaches at the high school and college levels. He also has performed in New York, Tokyo and Indonesia, and he has performed with Clark Terry, Louie Bellson and Marshall Royal.

Maybe it's the sequencing of the songs on Nothing But Blue Sky or maybe it's the reaction to the first hearing of Humphrey's voice. It's such that it grows on you. Hints of Humphrey's charm to come emerges on "I Can See Clearly Now" as he rearranges the song's original form to lengthen some rests or alters some chords. Moreover, Humphrey stays on track with the melody, leaving the heightening of tension and improvisational elaboration to Shilansky and Wind. Indeed, Shilansky arouses the most curiosity throughout the performance, from the start with his perceptive accompaniment and fully realized solo. However, one wonders why the second track, "Friday the 13th," wasn't the first one, for this is the piece that identifies the personalities of the quartet's members and creates, through the fun they have with the song and the fancy of the lyrics written by Humphrey's wife, Jenn. Even from the start, Wilson creates whimsical clatter on the drum's rim before the straight-four intro--as strict in its on-the-beat time-keeping as a rhythm guitar's and at odds with Monk's individualistic sense of time. Comically, Humphrey sings things like "The morning paper arrives / We're delighted to smell the Starbucks perkin' / Openin' your eyes" with, deceptively, a Hoagy Carmichael-like plainness of expression before Wind bows an equally humorous solo reinforced by Shilansky's backbeat. Even Wilson, established by now as a drummer who evokes positive musical remembrances like a creaky porch swing, gets in on the act after Humphrey's scat chorus with a cleverly crafted low-key solo, proving his power of pitchless suggestion. Naturally, we find on "Friday the 13th" that it's "raining cats and dogs," The New York Times is "totally soaked" and "you sipped your joe and you choked."

So, who is this Chris Humphrey? First, we hear him interpret a thirty-year-old pop song that is rarely heard any longer (though its lyrics give the CD its title). Then Humphrey tinks with a Monk tune, oddly enough making it his own. Satisfyingly, the remainder of Nothing But Blue Sky rounds out his talent--and his personality.

First, without telling, we can perceive that Humphrey is a parent. The sentiment, emotion and lyrics of "Anna's Song (Safe in My Arms)" convey a parent's universal emotion to protect one's children from misfortune with words like "cold though the world may be / I'll keep you endlessly / Here where your troubles melt away� / You�ll always be safe in my arms." Special recognition goes to Wind for his vibrant, beautifully played introduction, and to Shilansky for his addition of a jazz waltz sway to the songs throughout his solo, taking it to another level.

We can tell that Humphrey has a steadfast affinity for jazz standards. The wit and energy he creates for Oscar Pettiford's "Swingin' 'Til The Girls Come Home" establishes its feel, which the rhythm section joyfully supports. Plus, Humphrey's rearranging of Duke Ellington's "Solitude" is sensitively performed in a leisurely fashion during which Shilansky and Humphrey are closely attuned to each other's direction and shadings.

And we know that Humphrey uses his theoretical knowledge of the music to his advantage as he combines it with feeling when, for example, he sings "One Note Samba" in seven-four, still nevertheless retaining the clave, the understated Brazilian style of singing, its puckishness and the joy. Humphrey concludes Nothing But Blue Sky with another element of his experience that previously had not been evident on the CD, a spiritual. Even then, "Every Time I Feel The Spirit" contains contagious jazz-influenced optimism, unabashedly Old Testament in its references to "fire and smoke." Still, Humphrey's voice remains consistent with the irrepressible sense of rhythm that animates his performances--and the uplift of the song.

By the end of Nothing But Blue Sky, we know quite a lot about Chris Humphrey, and more importantly, we become aware of his music, polished, accessible, entertaining, and inventive.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chris Humphrey
  • CD Title: Nothing But Blue Sky
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Cadence Jazz Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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