The musical irony of this release is not lost and is the reason it may be one of my very favorite releases for the year. Jazz has a reputation as being serious and scholarly giving some people the same reaction when hearing the words "tax time." Jazz can also go a little too far in the opposite direction where the lounge lizard effect is but 3 inebriated receptionists from the the office park down the street away from something best heard at happy hour of your local Marriott.
Fromage from the Randy Hoexter Group finds this happy middle ground with what are essentially one hit wonders from 30 years ago and transforms these throw aways into new musical treasures with an all star line up. To "re-harm" some familiar melodies by taking a new musical direction could be the musical equivalent of tap dancing in a sonic mine field. Hoexter quickly proves his prolific talents as instrumentalist and arranger are no fluke!
"You Light Up My Life" for those of you in the "forty-fifty" something demo is a tune easily forgotten and probably for obvious reasons. Originally a number one smash for eleven weeks in 1977, the tune died faster than the careers of those that sang this well worn number including Debby Boone, Robert Goulet and Whitney Houston. Hoexter takes a drum heavy rhythmic approach, a visceral feel but in a completely organic setting. The potential for a serious contemporary cross over on this particular tune leaps from your speakers. Old school indeed becoming new cool. Changing the tune from a waltz to a tune with the emphasis on beat one gives the 7/4 a far more contemporary feel. "Escape" ( The Pina Colada Song ) was the last number one hit of the 70's and is as tired a tune as you can find - till now. While a smash hit for it's day, "Escape" has been beaten and died more sonic deaths then most tunes someone my age can remember. With a slightly more island feel and another stellar performance from Hoexter on piano a once tired classic is infused with new sonic flavor and lyrical purpose. Haslip's bass solo is spot on and adds just the right amount of texture needed for a three dimensional sonic depth of field. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" while a hit for the Ohio Express is given a sonic exploratory by The Randy Hoexter Group. Taking a somewhat musical hodgepodge that was the original and reformulating the tune into a more gentle bossa nova is a stroke of pure musical genius.
The Randy Hoexter Group does the impossible here. Fun without frivolity is infused not only into these tunes but into the jazz idiom with inventiveness and a sincere respect for their craft.
Fromage is of course french for cheese. In the musicial connotation it is tied almost directly to what is considered some of the worst you can find. The basic intention of this release was to take some of what are largely consider some of the "worst" or perhaps "shop worn classics" of the past and reinvent them into modern art if you will. Truly taking old school and making it new cool and with an all star cast coupled with the right arrangement proving making a silk purse is indeed possible.
Randy Hoexter's Fromage could easily be overlooked based on song selection alone and that would be a crime against music. Hoexter takes the musical equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and with the help of a first call band turns this sonic offering into a 5 Star gourmet meal.
Tracks: Gypsys, Tramps, & Thieves; You Light Up My Life; Delta Dawn; Muskrat Love; Escape; I've Never Been To Me; Seasons In The Sun; Yummy, Yummy, Yummy; Honey/Dies Irae; Billy, Don't Be A Hero; Canon
Personnel: Randy Hoexter: piano, arrangements, hand claps; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Trey Wright: guitar; Tom Knight: drums ( 1,2,3,6,7,9,10,11); Dave Weckl: drums (4,5,8); Sam Skelton: saxophones, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet; Mike Barry: trumpet (1,2,4,6,9,11); Gordon Vernick: trumpet (3,7,8); Eric Alexander: trombone; Angie Driscoll: vocals (2,9); Kit Chatham: congas, djembe, cajon; Eric Sanders: triangle, shaker.