By James Hale | Published January 2020
Bria Skonberg can play. And she can sing in a hazy style that falls between Melody Gardot and Norah Jones. But on her latest album, the bandleader still can’t seem to decide if she wants to put an individual stamp on contemporary pop songs, make political statements or indulge in muscular musical conversation with her bandmates. Some artists commingle disparate elements like these to create a unified whole. Here, the result is more jarring than consolidated, despite some good intentions and novel ideas.
A case in point is Skonberg’s “Blackbird Fantasy,” which melds Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” and “Black And Tan Fantasy,” the 1927 composition by Duke Ellington and trumpeter Bubber Miley. There’s no faulting Skonberg’s desire to pay tribute to Miley with a plunger-mute solo that plays beautifully off Darrian Douglas’ hi-hat attack. But McCartney’s melody fits poorly into the dominant, slow-drag ostinato bed that opens the medley. The conceit of stitching together two immensely popular artists across four decades to underline a point about racial equity is noble, if flawed. The other extreme is using Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” as commentary on gun violence, topping it with a bolero-styled trumpet solo. In the end, it’s just a kitschy take on an awful song, and Bono’s cloying lyrics transmit no irony. Much more successful are the instrumental features, the churning “Villain Vanguard” and the slippery “I Want To Break Free,” which combine with the softly anthemic “Square One” to showcase an artist with exceptional musical skills.
Nothing Never Happens: Blackout; So Is The Day; Blackbird Fantasy; Square One; Villain Vanguard; Bang Bang; What Now; I Want To Break Free. (41:36)
Personnel: Bria Skonberg, trumpet, vocals; Patrick Bartley, saxophone (5, 7, 8); Doug Wamble, guitar; Mathis Picard, piano; Jon Cowherd, organ (1, 2); Devin Starks, bass: Darrian Douglas, drums.