If I had to choose one word to describe Tuey Connell’s vocal performance on his new CD "Under The Influence," it would be the word ‘pleasant.’ As a descriptive, ‘pleasant’ would normally be a good thing, but in this case the ‘p’ in pleasant stands for plain, pedestrian and prosaic. It’s not that Connell has a bad voice. Quite the contrary. It’s just that it seems devoid of any real emotional content. When I listen to him sing, I don’t get the feeling that he has any real connection to any of these songs. He simply sounds too controlled, too academic. There is a quote in his promotional material comparing him to Chet Baker. While it is true that Baker also had a very reserved, almost monotone way of singing, the difference is that Baker had to ability to make you believe every word that he sang. Connell does not display that gift on this recording.
Listening to this album, it’s hard to imagine him performing these songs anywhere outside of a local neighborhood bar or hotel lounge. His voice and his phrasing are more suited for country-blues, as he shows on the song "Why You Been Gone So Long" or even light R&B, as on his version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "How Sweet It Is". His attempts at scatting on a couple of the tunes, rather than adding a sense of jazz legitimacy to project only re-enforce the lounge-like quality of the performance. Connell also contributes some guitar playing and banjo playing to the CD. He is a competent instrumentalist, and the banjo brings an interesting sound to the music, but this guitar solos pretty much mirror his vocal performance - pleasant, but uninspired.
That being said, this album is not completely without merit. The one thing that Connell has done very well is choose an outstanding backing band. That band is the Steve Klink Trio, with Steve Klink on piano, Henning Gailing on bass and Markus Rieck on drums. Each is an outstanding musician in his own right, and they play exceptionally well together, giving Connell very solid support. This CD also features the tenor saxophone magic of special guest Geof Bradfield who’s playing is, without a doubt, the highpoint of the album. His tone is fat and buttery, his technique is flawless and his solos are spectacular. Whenever Connell sits back and Bradfield and the Klink trio take over, you are reminded that this is indeed a jazz album, and for those few moments you are treated to what a jazz album is supposed to sound like.
Most of the tunes are standards, but Connell contributes three originals - "Malady", "I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine" and "Slowly Now". He shows definite potential as a composer and lyricist. If he continues to write it will be interesting to see how his talent for composition develops over time.
This is not a CD that will appeal to most hardcore jazzophiles, but if you like your jazz ‘lite’ and just this side of ‘smooth’ this might be the album for you.