From Philip Chaffin's coy, casual backwards glance on the CD cover to the Broadway-packed songlist on the back, one would suspect Warm Spring Night to be more of a cabaret than jazz album. And one would be correct in that suspicion. Yet as any jazz vocal fan knows, many top-notch singers cross easily between the two genres, including such legends as, say, Bobby Short or Susannah McCorkle.
So what interest does Chaffin's disc hold for the fan of improvised music? Not enough.
This of course isn't to say this is a bad record. Chaffin turns out to be a solid middle-of-the-pack cabaret singer, hitting all the prerequisite cues this mostly-ballad set calls for. His tenor stays hushed in the quiet moments, booming to a full-bodied croon as the songs' lyrics require. The selections here hit on all the usual suspects, with songwriters ranging from the classic (Kern, Hammerstein, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart) to modern Great White Way (Sondheim, Cy Coleman, Alan Menken, Ricky Ian Gordon). Only three of these songs-- "Haunted Heart," "My Romance" and "That's All"--would register high on a jazzer's scale. Yet all of them get the same to-the-rafters delivery here, always true to the melody and never embellishing. Chaffin does change the tempo a bit to a jaunty horn-tinged lilt on "Don't Ever Leave Me," but there's no spark of spontaneity to move the song beyond its stage roots. Rebecca Luker, another cabaret favorite, provides a colorful contrast on "Sailing at Midnight" with her bright soprano complementing Chaffin's tenor. The orchestra, too, ebbs and swells at all the right moments, but no one ever solos.
One might say that in the cabaret field the song is the star, and in that aspect Philip Chaffin succeeds in conveying the emotions of the words he sings. If he wishes to bring his music to a jazz-loving audience, however, we need to hear more of Chaffin's own personality shine through. If one's idea of an enjoyable evening includes hearing well-sung standards at a ritzy piano bar, Warm Spring Night fits the bill. But jazz fans will certainly leave wanting more.