Combine a traditional New Orleans jazz repertoire with an aesthetic a la Art Blakey and you get Soft Shoe, Leroy Jones’ latest effort as a bandleader. If the album is missing Blakey’s legendary energy, it is still both exuberant and clever.
For the most part, the songs chosen are nothing out of the ordinary—standards such as “Mack the Knife” and “Basin Street Blues,” and original compositions that sound like standards—but Jones’ arrangements are original and his horn parts, punchy. The horn section of Craig Klein on trombone, Alonzo Bowens on saxophone and Jones on trumpet and flugelhorn has a buoyant sound, full of character.
What at times keeps Soft Shoe from making itself felt is a lack of intensity, particularly in the solo sections, which can meander. “Shansky,” for instance, loses its edge well before its eight minutes are up. The album is typically lucid and easy-going, but it ends unsatisfyingly with “Separately,” a rather oblique Latin love song.
Two numbers stand out, though. In Jones’ stately arrangement of “Flee as a Bird,” a hymn commonly used in second lines, the interplay of the a cappella horns is gorgeous and lends the song a funereal solemnity. “Waltz for the Bride and Groom” is a colorful example of a rare species: the jazz waltz. The triple meter has a happy bounce and, like the rest of Soft Shoe, a disarming, carefree attitude.