For anyone who loves joyful, unpretentious, but highly creative and spontaneous jazz, Todd Londagin's new album Look Out For Love will be a delightful discovery. The vocalist/trombonist's music is a vivid reflection of his personal roots. Growing up playing music and street busking in an itinerant, alternative-lifestyle family, he lived in buses, cars, homemade boats or tents, traveling throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Europe. Home-schooled and with no formal musical training, Todd honed his skills the old-style way through influences like Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, early Sinatra and New Orleans traditional jazz, especially Jack Teagarden (one of the few other trombonist/vocalists in jazz) and later, J.J. Johnson.
All of these diverse elements of musical experience have been brought together in a most refreshing, unfettered manner, and are fully evident on Look Out For Love. In the company of four longstanding musical cohorts, Todd has assembled a repertoire of 10 songs, culled from the Great American Songbook and popular songs, each developed in a most organic fashion by the musicians involved. In testimony to the great jazz tradition of spontaneous creativity, each song sounds as if it was deftly arranged to deliver its story in a planned fashion. But in truth, the songs were developed by the musicians in the studio in the best "home-cooking" style.
Part of this is due to the longevity of the musical relationships involved. Bassist Jennifer Vincent and drummer David Berger have been playing with Todd since the early 1990s (all three were original members of the successful '90s band, The Flying Neutrinos); while pianist Matt Ray and guitarist Pete Smith have been performing with Todd since 2000. Together, they artfully and lovingly developed each piece like an assortment of delicious dishes combined together for a cohesive feast. As Todd explains, "each tune is an exercise in doing things in a different way."
Reflecting the joyous abandon of the leader's freewheeling upbringing, a full palette of styles is employed on the album, from the 1920s style of the bouncily up-tempo Some of These Days (a tune Londagin has played since boyhood) to the samba of Brazil. With Matt adding glockenspiel and in the company of special guest Ms. Toby Williams joining in on the vocals, Brazil is a playfully romping item that surges in a controlled frenzy and is highlighted by Toby and Todd's interwoven vocals on the way out.
Two tracks are guitar-less. Pennies From Heaven is a smoothly mid-tempo swinger with Todd's vocals sandwiched between two trombone solos and a two-fisted piano solo, all cushioned by Vincent's brightly walking bass and Berger's dynamic drumming. You Go to My Head is a tender ballad featuring Todd's clear, smooth vocals, perfectly ensconced in the setting fashioned by a most sympathetic rhythm section.
Beautiful balladry is also on tap with Cole Porter's classic I Concentrate on You - a version known among singers as the "Sinatra changes." A lush piano intro sets the stage for Londagin's sultry, evocative vocal, and the piece flirts with a delicious bossa nova groove in most organic fashion, nicely supported by the warm wood of Vincent's bass.
Unabashed swing is definitely a consistent mood throughout the CD. The title track Look Out For Love opens the album in jaunty style with nicely syncopated rhythms and a sparkling guitar solo. A playful guitar/piano descending patterned vamp sets off Long Ago & Far Away, a brightly swinging piece with fine solos by Ray and Smith, and a vividly burning trombone solo. Bye Bye Baby's easy groove is nicely colored by tasteful trombone overdubs in the intro to Todd's vocal. An emphatic trombone solo, a vibrant bass turn and a short trading of fours between guitar and drums are highlights before the piece is ushered out on the wings of a trombone choir.
Additional subtle overdubs are used brilliantly in the production, only occasionally, and always to great effect. The two closing tracks are perfect examples - and also take the album into a new and provocative territory. Stevie Wonder's I Can't Help It is a powerfully swinging, highly infectious piece built on nicely syncopated suspended rhythms. Overdubbed vocals are most effective, and the song has a markedly modern feel that is both compelling and exciting. The album's closer, Bust Your Windows, offers the greatest departure from the rest of the album. The rubato opening sets the tone for a moody, dramatic journey - artfully constructed and filled with angular modality and emotional gravity. The piece builds in intensity, slowly burning its way forward to its climax and going out in a gentle denouement. (The highly respected vocal contractor and back-up singer Gregory Clark provided significant influence on these last two pieces, but sadly passed away shortly after this album was recorded.)
Not enough can be said about the tremendous musicianship that went into this album. The empathy and commitment of everyone to the overall vision is extraordinary and has truly produced a labor of love that not only has resulted in a very special album, but portends great things to come.