Jim Pearce – I’m In The Twilight Of A Mediocre Career – Oak Avenue Publishing OA001, 54:21: ****1/2:
Jim Pearce – Prairie Dog Ballet – Oak Avenue Publishing 7240, 53:01 ****:
(Jim Pearce – piano & vocals; Herman Burney – acoustic bass; Paul Fallat – drums; Eric South – saxophones, flute; Joe Grandsen – trumpet; Ken Gregory – guitars, background vocals; Rafael Pereira – percussion; Robert Dickson – acoustic bass)
As a purveyor of humorous jazz/blues songs, Jim Pearce might be compared to other renowned artists. That would be inappropriate, as Pearce only resembles himself. Certainly, he has some of the sophistication of David Frishberg, and a touch of Mose Allison rawness. But there is something original about his fragmented sketches of musical impressions. The multiple award-winning songwriter has reinvented the troubadour with modern jazz aesthetics.
Like most great storytellers, his life has its own idiosyncratic themes. As the tale is told, he dropped out of college to play at an amusement park. Broke and restless (great attributes for an aspiring musician), he formed a band and went on the road for nearly six years. Playing with regional bands, including Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs, The Catalinas and Sugarcreek on the Southland circuit, Pearce honed his technique and established a reputation as a ferocious performer. Weddings, concerts, festivals, clubs, nursing homes, and a gorilla funeral were all welcome gigs to this road warrior. Eventually, he would alleviate his touring schedule and record with his band.
I’m In The Twilight Of A Mediocre Career is the most current release. Consisting of thirteen original songs, (vocal and instrumental), self-deprecating charm and crisp, jazzy swingtime alternate with ease. The title cut offers a jazz-waltz, autobiographical retrospective. Pearce’s voice will never be confused with Joe Williams, but his sarcastic ebullience is offset nicely by his breezy piano solos. The opening track, “Let’s Run Away”, is offered in the style of “Fly Me To The Moon”. The steady, cool tempo receives a spirited trumpet solo by Joe Gransden, before it gets turned over to the animated piano run by Pearce. “It Just Ain’t Fair” gives the singer a stage for romantic overtone. This time, a tenor sax solo by Eric South frames the composition’s bouncy countenance.
The instrumental pieces are engaging as well. “Almost To Brazil” spins a relaxed, samba cadence with jazzy coloration. With a furtive downbeat, “Refried And Bona Fide” achieves a fusion trio sound with Herman Burney’s solid bass and Paul Fallat’s crisp drumming. The finale, “Happy Keys” is a simple, jaunty piano opus that showcases the depth of Pearce’s harmonics.
Prairie Dog Ballet, released in 2006, utilizes the same musicians with different arrangements. The title piece has a post bop, horn chorus driving the melody. The jazzier feel is maintained on “Unknowable Blue”. Tempo shifts, complemented by trumpet and tenor sax solos, cultivate a deeper aesthetic. A certain highlight is “One More Tomorrow” with a plaintive late-night acoustic resonance. Pearce’s piano play is both nuanced and lyrical in its eloquence. Fans of his idiomatic lyrics will not be disappointed. “Why I Haven’t Got You” (another hilarious rumination on love), “Gone Fishin” (a jump swing incarnation), and “Now That You’re Gone” (more relationship angst) strike the perfect equilibrium of jazz spontaneity and humorous narrative.
These albums are well crafted and very accessible. Perhaps Jim Pearce is at the apex of his “mediocre” career.
TrackList (I’m In The Twilight Of A Mediocre Career): Let’s Run Away; I’m In The Twilight Of A Mediocre Career; Noodlearity; Here I Am Dreaming Rainbows; It Just Ain’t Fair; Almost To Brazil; I Hates To Leaves Ya But I Gots To Went; Just Another Spring Song; Refried And Bona Fide; Sasquatch Is Falling In Love; Happy Keys
TrackList (Prairie Dog Ballet): Prairie Dog Ballet; Why I Haven’t Got You; Tucker Samba; Unknowable Blue; Now That You’re Gone; Gone Fishin’; Last Love; Happy Groove Tune; There’s Just Something ‘Bout You; Halfway Home; One More Tomorrow
— Robbie Gerson