It’s seldom you hear a jazz CD with a song title like I Can’t Believe I’m Addicted to the O.C. or a thank you list that thanks, among others, Woody Allen, Bruce Lee, and the creators of South Park. It’s clear that Trinh, a jazz major at Virginia Commonwealth University, isn’t the sort of jazz composer who sits in a dark room smoking clove cigarettes and listening to Count Basie records, angry that he wasn’t born fifty or so years ago.
Trinh is unafraid of influences outside of jazz and it shows. Very Strange Night features a country song, a funk workout with a Wurlitzer (an odd choice since most popular funk bands like Parliament and Kool and the Gang used ARP synthesizers), and a breathtakingly beautiful and far-too-short classical piece entitled simply Piece for Trumpet and Piano.
The album’s first track is the sound of a stylus dropping on a disc, a sort of pretentious hint that we’re in for something purposely nostalgic. Next is To You, Near You, With You, a swing song with vocals by Terri Murphy and backing by The Lounge Union Orchestra. A love song, To You, features lines like “Met you at the record store” and “Feels like a Woody Allen flick with you.” The Allen reference is especially apt, since the song sounds like one of numbers in Allen’s musical, Everyone Knows I Love You. The song has a strong melody and a sense of how to make listeners remember that swing songs used to be pop music.
I Can’t Believe I’m Addicted to the O.C., despite a clever title, never fully comes together. The song seems to lack a main theme or a general sense of direction. Signs Are Full of Jive, another song with vocals (by Adrian Duke) that pokes fun at astrology, has the same strong hooks that To You had, along with a shouting chorus featuring Trinh himself. The band behind the song, The Upper East Side Big Band, features a reed section, a trumpet section, a trombone section, a rhythm section (with guitar, bass, and drums) and tuba and washboard players for good measure.
The country song I mentioned above, Thank Goodness, is quite well done, though it hardly sounds jazz influenced at all. Perhaps a Western Swing song would have fit more comfortably into the jazz mold, but I don’t think Trinh is interested in only writing jazz songs. Charles Arthur’s lap steel on Thank Goodness is gorgeous, and pretty much single-handedly supplies the song’s sad core. Tried To Talk to Her, But She Thought I Was Weird is the above-mentioned Wurlitzer funk song and while competent, it’s straining to call the song funky.
Based on Trinh’s interests, I initially thought the track, Time After Time, was a big band cover of the Cyndi Lauper song, but it’s a faithful rendition of a standard by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne. The aforementioned Piece for Trumpet and Piano is criminally short and proof that Trinh can write more than just swing songs.
Overall, there is more to like about Very Strange Night than dislike. Trinh can write catchy swing-era melodies, sad, ornate country songs, and beautiful snippets of classical music. Where the album falters is its instrumentals, which lack the playfulness and the confidence of the vocal numbers. Trinh has real talent and his ambition should be admired and praised, even if the results are sometimes mixed.
Tracklist: To You, Near You, With You, I Can’t Believe I’m Addicted to the O.C., Signs Are Full of Jive, Thank Goodness, I Tried to Talk To Her, But She Thought I Was Weird, Time After Time, That‚s Why, Piece for Trumpet and Piano, Very Strange Night.
– Daniel Krow