CD Review: JAZZ LOVES DISNEY 2: A KIND OF MAGIC (Various Artists on Verve)

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by Frank Arthur on December 20, 2017



After The Three Little Pigs‘ runaway success in 1933, Walt Disney attempted a few more shorts starring the little porkers, but they weren’t as good, which led to one of the genius’s most memorable and telling quotes: “You can’t top pigs with pigs” — meaning sequels should be avoided. After the successful Jazz Loves Disney, a 2016 album of newly recorded takes on classic Disney tunes by various artists, Verve is releasing another one subtitled “A Kind of Magic.”  It’s the hot swing that really flies on this new CD, but other tracks are so light that they seem arranged for geriatrics on a cruise ship, while others belong on Radio Disney. Maybe producer Jay Newland was trying to please as many diverse listeners from around the globe as possible that he ended up with a middling effort which is shorter in length and less successful than its predecessor. Performances are mostly mainstream and approachable, so this wasted opportunity is better suited as an introduction of jazz to kids than a true jazz reinterpretation for all ages.

Bebel Gilberto’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” is that kind of new-age-y smooth jazz you’d find on The Wave combined with that breezy João Gilberto intercontinental flavor backed up by seventies-style brass that Richard Carpenter could call his own, but it doesn’t add up to more than a shoulder shrug. Interestingly, the distinctively voiced Imany’s take on “Some Day My Prince Will Come” gets a snazzier big band arrangement (don’t get me wrong, it’s still jazz-light), but the song is simply not suited for her deep, smoky register.

That swingin’ Brit Jamie Cullum (who blew me away with “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” on the first Jazz Loves Disney) is completely lovable on “Be Our Guest” but he’s a strange vocal bedfellow to Eric Cantona, who’s doing a gravelly Maurice Chevalier thing. Clearly, the intention was to have two separate characters do the song — as with the movie’s candelabra and clock — but while it’s a fun track, Cullum and the great big band should have done this solo.

I love Belgian songstress Selah Sue’s charming throaty sassy vocals on “So This Is Love,” and that super sweet Arthur Murray dance studio arrangement (complete with harp) is fine, but the match of vocalist and arrangement is iffy. Fellow Brit Laura Mvula makes the Mary Poppins‘ lullaby “Stay Awake” fascinating, given that quirky, rough and gentle post-Bohemian Rickie Lee Jones quality, and the strings (dubbed the Appassionato Orchestra here), aren’t so syrupy as to make it saccharine, but it’s a head-scratcher. Jacob Collier, the young multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who went viral with his split-screen video covers of popular songs, does a lot of work on “Under the Sea,” including bubble effects, giving an inventive theme park richness to the oft-covered tune; but honestly it’s more bubble gum than jazz. “Try Everything,” a tune from last year’s Zootopia is too new to have been covered by anyone else but Shakira, but it’s really not a magic tune, innocuous even, so not even the creative African singer Angélique Kidjo could make it her own with bouncy, tribal rhythm.

Frank Churchill, who wrote “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, wrote the music to a Silly Symphony (and the rare short totally directed by Walt Disney himself), “The Golden Touch”; it’s a great idea to use a song that I don’t believe has ever been covered since it came out in 1935, but it’s just not right for Madeleine Peyroux, whose growly pushing for character is at odds with the well-produced big band (and the tune, credited to Churchill on track 9, is incorrectly titled; it’s actually called “The Counting Song” and the lyrics are by Snow White‘s wordsmith Larry Morey).

This is the era to be grateful for iTunes, where you can purchase just a few tracks. For real toe-tapping, happy-feet antics, look no further than the lyric-free “Steamboat Willie,” an arrangement of the music from Mickey Mouse’s first hit cartoon — although it’s incorrectly credited here to Lewis Bertram: The original music was lifted from other sources and arranged by Wilfred Jackson and Bert Lewis — who became Disney’s music director when Carl Stalling left the studio in 1930 (that’s two egregious errors on one CD). And for real fun, there’s the French version of “When I See an Elephant Fly” (“Les Corbeaux”), which has Thomas Dutronc giving us a swinging hot style which is the love child of Django Reinhardt and Robert Clary arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Shockingly, the most whitebread effort comes from George Benson — you wanna talk The Wave? His take on Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be in My Heart” (from Tarzan) contains silly antiseptic background vocalists singing just the song title (which accidentally has a capitol “In” in the CD’s printed title) while Benson plucks “On Broadway”-type one-note riffing that is something he could do in his sleep, and which may put you to sleep.

This sure ain’t the kind of jazz we’d get when Verve was Norman Granz’s label.

Jazz Loves Disney 2: A Kind of Magic
1 disc | 11 tracks | 40:38
released November 10, 2017
available on Amazon and iTunes

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