A sexy jazz/pop confection of smoky jazz vocals, bold rock piano anthems, effervescent pop and dark hip-hop musings.
Armed with roses and a piano, singer/songwriter and pianist David Thorne Scott has designs on your heart with his new album Hopeful Romantic. Deep musicianship and creativity born of years of jazz explorations combine with youthful iconoclasm and a rock aesthetic to give music-lovers a delightful surprise. Playfully sweet but wise lyrics and angular melodies are hallmarks, as is the intimate yet strong voice that declaims them.
“I love my audience. Whenever I have stretched out in my live jazz shows, whether it’s a country song or an 80s pop ballad or an experiment with electronics and chanting, they have come right along to listen,” says Scott. “When I heard the Jamie Cullum record The Pursuit, I had the epiphany that I could bring the same eclecticism to a recording.”
Hopeful Romantic – the Boston-based singer’s first crossover album – consists of smoky jazz, powerful rock anthems, bouncy pop and moody hip-hop musings. These disparate rays are focused through a voice that provides a singular emotional resonance. Regardless of style, “I still sound like myself,” Scott says.
The bookend tracks are “The Sign On My Door” and “Crossing the Line,” originals that sound like jazz standards from the golden age, but with sly lyrics born of a 21st century mind: “Let the coffee cool down while we’re foolin’ around, we can go to Starbucks afterwards…” The infectious “Who Doesn’t Want To Fall In Love” and the ebullient “I Should Take It From Here” are flirtations that practically scream to be sung along with. “More Than One Way” mesmerizes with a mélange of acoustic, electric and electronic sound anchored by aggressive percussion to tell a story of freedom from the chains of obsessive love. Perhaps the most distinctive track is “Wisdom From Truth,” with its R&B-infused form and hook, dark harmonies and lyrics, and bebop melody. “I was trying to channel Eddie Jefferson by way of Robert Glasper,” says Scott with a laugh.
Hopeful Romantic is a stylistic departure from Scott’s previous recordings, the late-night jazz of Shade and the kinetic interplay of the vocal/piano duet record Dyad. As a pure jazz singer, Cadence Magazine says “he phrases like a saxophone player and is as slippery and hip as the young Mel Tormé.”
The Jazz Education Journal chose Shade as a Top 5 Vocal CD of the year. It was the only self-produced album in a lineup of luminaries Andy Bey, Kitty Margolis, Mark Murphy and Judi Silvano. “He is a welcome change from the more predictable vocal jazzers in the competitive vocal milieu. Scott's voice is refreshingly different; he explores, discovers, and shares resulting creative approaches to melodies and doesn't fail to swing,” said Herb Wong’s review. “I haven’t been this moved by a performance of ‘For All We Know’ since Carmen McRae.”
“Crystal clear diction, squeaky clean tone and the ability to scat like a true horn player are among the qualities that set this vocalist apart from hundreds of thousands of jazz singers of either sex. … [Scott is] an indisputable jazz artist that belongs in the spotlight,” says Ori Dagan of ejazznews.com.
Since the recording of Dyad, Scott has been experimenting with widely varying styles of music. He founded the Hard Bop Sextet featuring Greg Hopkins to explore funky jazz inspired by 1960s Blue Note recordings. As a member of the vocal quartet Syncopation, which the Boston Globe calls “a 21st-century Manhattan Transfer or Lambert, Hendricks and Ross,” Scott sang and played trumpet with the Boston Pops and the New England Wind Symphony. He appeared as a guest soloist on Mina Cho’s Originality album, which received a four-star review in DownBeat Magazine. Not content to sing only contemporary music, Scott has performed with the Blue Heron Renaissance choir, which the New Yorker praises for “fresh ideas” and “expressive intensity.”
“Collaboration is the name of the game for me right now,” Scott says. “It gets me out of myself. There are so many genius musicians in Boston, there’s not enough time to work with them all.”
The grand collaboration of Hopeful Romantic is with Gold- and Platinum-award winning producer/musician Anthony J. Resta, whose resumé includes work with veteran bands like Duran Duran, Collective Soul and Shawn Mullins as well as up-and-comers The Cinnamon Fuzz and The Elevator Drops. While Scott recorded all the lead vocals and multitracked the background vocals in his bedroom (pictured on the CD jacket), his piano and Rhodes parts were tracked in the liquid centre of the rhythm factory, the heart of the sci-fi mambo lab: Resta’s recording studio Bopnique Musique. Tucked away beneath an old mill complex north of Boston, Resta’s secret lair hides like a musical comic-book hero’s Beat Cave, with dozens of guitars, vintage keyboards, electronic doohickeys and musical toys that he and engineer Karyadi Sutedja employ to create grooves and atmospheres.
It might seem an unlikely pairing, the jazzer and the mad scientist, but Resta’s iconoclastic rock, hip-hop and experimental electronica and percussion creates a surprisingly cohesive sonic landscape suited perfectly for Scott’s arranging acumen and songcraft. Scott reflects, “Even though this was my first time working in a pop production style, we worked hard to achieve the flow of a jazz record.”
What he’s learned from recording this album, Scott says, is that “there is no reason not to sing a wide range of music that you love and can perform with enthusiasm and energy. My audience wants to enjoy music without worrying about stylistic purity, or whether the live show sounds the same as the record. These people love the physical sensation of good sound waves, they love the mental and emotional stimulation of lyrics that bring the listener in to the process, they love watching the high-wire act of musicians throwing it into that fifth gear where nobody knows where it’s going to land but you trust the pilot to take you down gracefully. They just love the ride.”
“Hopeful Romantic”: Track by track
The album starts off with a smoky jazz tune called “The Sign On My Door.” John Stein plays some whispery jazz guitar while the drums are brushed and horns blow cool. The vocals are whispery, too, with an invitation to “come play” to a certain intimate somebody. Following that is a rock piano anthem, “Who Doesn’t Want To Fall In Love?” The energy gets cranked up and the instruments crackle. Greg Loughman lays down a deep groove on his acoustic bass and the background vocals build up to a choir in high gear. The lead vocal is playful wailing, all the way up to that high E-flat at the end. The funky “Too Late” follows, with the keyboard sound switching to a gritty cool 1970s Fender Rhodes and the guitar working the wah pedal. The melody goes from a whisper to a shout of pain and loss, but the story twists around while the band jams out like Medeski, Martin and Wood. The rich texture of voices, horns, guitars and keyboards on “More Than One Way” holds you like a velvety comforter, but the Steve Gadd-like energy of Larry Finn on drums makes this song anything but sleepy. The repeating horn riff at the end has been linked to altered states of consiousness, so perhaps best not to listen too closely while driving. “I Should Take It From Here” bounces the blues away with a courtship story that demonstrates that tenacity in love sometimes pays off. The stop-and-start shuffle groove gives way to a flowing chorus that will have you singing along, but it’s the gorgeous orchestral breakdown that melts her heart and closes the deal. “Wisdom From Truth” brings a hip-hop sensibility together with bebop melodic lines, making you wonder how a collaboration between Eddie Jefferson and Robert Glasper might sound. Producer Anthony J. Resta’s fingerprints are all over this one, from laying down the tight groove on the drumkit to providing all the ear candy from synths, guitars, and even – yes – cowbell. The album ends with a sigh on “Crossing the Line.” Beginning with a jazz rubato chorus of just piano and vocals, the song proceeds to add in the rhythm section and lush strings behind a soaring, dreamy whistling solo. It’s not quite Andrew Bird, not quite Bing Crosby, but a highly satisfying expression of the yearning and disappointment of unrequited love.