When you’re a music editor, you sit with a pile of advanced CDs you’ve received from labels or individual artists and play them one by one. Some never make it through the second song, but then there are those you play over and over again, and place in the most prominent spot in your CD library. One of these A-1 CDs is Rick Braun’s 2011 “Rick Braun Sings with String,” from Mack Avenue Records.
It takes a huge effort to produce such a glorious album. From musicians, producers, orchestrators, arrangers, conductors, preparationers, engineers, technicians, A&R consultants, mixers, masterers, photographers, art and creative directors & designers, management, booking agencies, legal reps, studios and production…the list is mind-boggling, but the results in this case are outstanding.
Rick Braun singing, and with strings no less? Well, when you combine Braun’s stellar flugelhorn & trumpet playing with his surprising vocal lyricism, one can hardly resist. The fact is, in addition to his rich trumpet playing, Braun is an excellent singer (backing Rod Steward and Sade among others), something he has been doing most of his life.
Let’s begin with the superb dream team of musicians that lends to the stunning artistry of Rick Braun that turns this album into a prize winner: Joe LaBarbera drums, David Finck acoustic bass, Dean Parks guitar, Philippe Saisse acoustic piano, vibes, percussions, Jasmine Roy vocals (Plus Je T’embrasse), Johan Renard violin solo (Plus Je T’embrasse) and remote string recording sessions produced by orchestra.net with conductor Adam Klemens.
Then there is song selection. This isn’t common fair. Selecting songs and arranging their order is a magical gift in allowing the proper ebb and flow of an album. Though some songs on this CD will be familiar to the listener, like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “I Thought About You,” others songs on this CD test the knowledge of the listener. You will find intimate soundtracks and lush themes by notables Michel Legrand, Leonard Bernstein, Jimmy McHugh, Jules Styne, Frank Loesser and Jack Reardon. None could be more grand.
“This album,” says Rick, “feels a lot like coming home. I grew up listening to my mom, who was a singer and piano player. She was one of those people who knew every part of a song – the verse, the chorus, the refrain, all the lyrics.” This is an essential art, especially for a musician. Knowing the lyrics allows a musician to fully recognize the original feel and intent of a song, thus lending the proper intensity or lightness to the melody. On “Rick Braun Sings with Strings,” Braun manages to strike quite a lyrical balance between his flugelhorn and timely vocal phrasing, allowing the beautiful heart of the lyrics to shine through.
Rick also stresses his respect of the minimalist approach in telling the story of a song. “I’m much more of an inside player, and my inspirations are minimalist players, like Chet and Miles Davis,” says Rick. Like Miles once said, “The notes that one doesn’t play are as important – maybe even more so – than the notes one does play.”
So, when you think back to other jazz greats whom have successfully bridged the instrument/vocal gap very successfully, it’s not hard to imagine Braun holding the traditions of jazz to their fullest with this outstanding work of art. Highly recommended.