JC Hopkins Biggish Band – Underneath a Brooklyn Moon – Tigerlily Records!

by | Aug 26, 2006 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

JC Hopkins Biggish Band – Underneath a Brooklyn Moon, featuring Queen Esther – Tigerlily Records! 9.6.03 – 39:29  ****:

Sounding surprisingly like a lost recording from the heydays of big band jazz, the debut recording Underneath a Brooklyn Moon is a refreshingly sincere and heartfelt performance of new original tunes written by JC Hopkins, the leader of the Biggish Band. Most people wouldn’t be able to resist a wink and smirk while performing songs like this, but the band members sound like they’re having too much fun with the material to think about how out of step it all really is. And that’s a good thing: it all sounds wonderfully fresh and real, filled with virtuoso solos, artful arrangements, and tight ensemble playing. This band is so comfortable with each other that they sound like they playing together for fifty years—there’s an easy, effortless quality to their performance. They all sound like they’re having the best time in their lives. And that feeling is communicated to the listener.

Most of the songs are built around the vocal skills of Queen Esther. There’s a kind of raw naiveté to Queen Esther’s voice. The way she slides into and out of each note, slurring her enunciation, with a sly hesitating sense of rhythm that just borders on slow, as if she’s listening and playing to an alternative beat. To be honest, she plays so fast and loose with her intonation that at first she seemed out of tune, but with time and multiple listenings, I began to see what she was doing. Queen Esther approaches her vocals more as an instrumentalist might, bending notes and delaying the timing to emphasize the solo. It’s masterful, but not everyone can pull this off. On songs like “Someday” (track 8), her approach creates a bittersweet quality that subtly works against the lyrics of the song with a powerful effect. On reflection, it’s obvious that Queen Esther puts a lot of thought into her performance, while at the same time she makes it seem graceful and carefree. That’s one of the hallmarks of a true virtuoso.

There are number of standout solos in the recording. Warren Smith, on vibraphone, turns in tasteful and complex solos on “Settle Down” (track 10) and “Here Comes Love” (track 1). James Zollar really smokes on his muted trumpet solo on “Small Town” (track 6). J. Walter Hawkes practically croons out his trombone solos on “I’ve Got My Finger on a Star” (track 3) and “I Still Believe in Some Kind of Love” (track 7). Vocalist Lewis “Flip” Barnes sings duets with Queen Esther on two numbers, “Underneath a Brooklyn Moon” (track 5) and “Small Town” (track 6). They sound so good together, they left me wanting more. Actually, you could say that about this entire recording. At just a bit more than 39 minutes, this is a rather short disc by modern standards. But leaving the listeners hungry for more is a good strategy for any band, as long as the listeners are also satisfied. All in all, this is a delightful and satisfying CD. Recommended.

Tracks: Here Comes Love, One Never Knows, I’ve Got My Finger on a Star, Ice Cream Song, Underneath a Brooklyn Moon, Small Town, I Still Believe in Some Kind of Love, Someday, Show Biz’ness, Settle Down.

– Hermon Joyner

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01