Kid Merv’s voice doesn’t so much recharge jazz standards as refocus them on their reasons for being, whether it be love, summer, or mourning. While most selections on his new album come from the master’s collection, the Satchmo influence isn’t as striking as Merv’s vocal mastery and the engaging response of his accompanists.
Really: listen to Herlin Riley on “Mack the Knife.” Think about how many drummers put stick to rim for that song since Weill and Brecht dreamed of London. Riley finds different places to strike while staying both honest to the story and supportive of Merv’s singing. Ellis Marsalis offers his own epic blues language on “Body & Soul,” while David Torkanowsky on “Summertime” sounds like the night the weather changes for the better. On “Jazz Funeral,” the melody of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” provides a backdrop for poet Chuck Perkins, who reports the facts of a parade to the deceased; on an album of classics, Chuck offers a new one. In the center of it all is Roland Guerin, now the go-to bassist for modern jazz in New Orleans.
Compliments to his band shouldn’t distract from Merv’s accomplishments here. He chooses smart spaces for his trumpet, never too far out of the lane, yet consistently nimble. The songbook may be conservative, but the outcomes share the wealth.