Cutting standards isn't a new thing for German jazz chameleon Till Brönner. His 1995 debut album, Generations of Jazz, contained fine renditions of "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "I Want to Be Happy." Since then he's recorded classic tunes of all kinds -- from pop and soul to Brazilian and film gems -- in a wide variety of settings.
The Good Life marks the trumpeter and vocalist's return to straight-ahead jazz after a self-titled outing that paid homage to CTI in 2012, and 2014's Movie Album, which treated film themes as contemporary jazz numbers. This 13-song set contains 11 standards and two originals. Brönner surrounded himself with a crack band of sidemen -- pianist Larry Goldings, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton -- at the legendary Ocean Way studio in Los Angeles with Dutch producer Ruud Jacobs. The vibe throughout is airy, thoughtful, and relaxed (the album's subtitle is "Music for Peaceful Moments"); the charts are direct but not lightweight. The opener is a reading of Sasha Distel's and Jack Reardon's title track that reveals his gentle, warm horn in the melody atop a lithe, brushed drum kit groove accentuated by Clayton's walking bassline, liquid fills from Wilson, and Goldings' intimate accents. In his most authoritative vocal performances on record, Brönner still directly references Chet Baker's singing, but the phrasing nuances of Michael Franks and Bob Dorough are reflected in his delivery of the breezy yet swinging renditions of "Come Dance with Me," the bossa-tinged interpretation of Irving Berlin's "Change Partners," and the straight-up fingerpopping "I May Be Wrong"-- with a choice solo by Wilson. On his own "O Que Resta" (an instrumental) Brönner frames his own lyrical playing in the long shadow cast by Miles Davis during his Gil Evans period. Goldings' break is close, humid, and gorgeous. "I'll Be Seeing You" is an iconic Billie Holiday number. Brönner even sings until the midway point -- long after the band establishes a lithe, loping groove, and he delivers a fine flügelhorn solo. When he begins to vocalize, the focus has shifted and it's a clever addendum. More ambitious is the read of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," inseparably associated with Frank Sinatra. The band's collective harmony establishes it as a nocturnal nursery rhyme. Clayton's illustrative bassline is carefully colored by Wilson as brushed snare and sparse, shimmering piano chords hold the frame. Brönner employs a halting, yet utterly lyrical vocal, delivering an utterly unique take that doesn't even reflect on Sinatra's. The only thing that doesn't hold up here is the leader's "Her Smile." The calypso-cum-samba hybrid is hip, but the lyric is trite compared to everything else. That's a minor complaint, though. This is a romantic and "light" record for sure, and it's one that shows Brönner's assuredness in reinterpreting the repertoire with grace and sophistication. ~ Thom Jurek