Clair De Lune & Sister Moon

Thomas Young

Ocean Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/06/1998

Tenor Thomas Young is on a roll these days. He's been featured in the past year on not one, but two new releases for upstart label Ocean. He had a big part in a Chicago production of "Amistad," which was out before Steven Spielberg's movie.

There's no doubting that Young has a fine set of pipes; there's also no doubting that he is comfortable in and capable of singing tunes in both a classic French style and modern jazz styles. But on Clair De Lune & Sister Moon, one questions if the two styles should have been combined.

For the French numbers (all songs by Gabriel Faure), Young is accompanied only by pianist Susan Caldwell Nelson. The sparse arrangements seem to fit the style of the songs very well, with "Mandoline" and "Clair De Lune" standing out head and shoulders above the others. (I also did like "En Sourdine," the album's opener.) For those of us who didn't take French in high school, translations of the songs are provided in the liner notes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And when Young tackes some of the modern classics, both light jazz and otherwise, he continues to shine. Stephen Sondheim ("Pretty Women"), Rodgers & Hammerstein ("I Have Dreamed"), Billy Strayhorn ("Lush Life")... even Sting ("Sister Moon") get the tenor treatment on this disc. When Young comes close to singing a little scat or be-bop as he does on "Sister Moon," he shows his true colors; I wouldn't mind seeing an album just in this style appear from Young.

A few of the more contemporary numbers, however, show one or two weaknesses. For one, when Young stretches to hit the higher notes, his voice sounds very uncomfortable, even strained as witnessed on "I Have Dreamed". I don't know how this should have been resolved - can't even say for sure if it could have been - but the effect in his voice is quite noticeable. And a few of the numbers, like "Lush Life" and his cover of Ervin Drake's "It Was A Very Good Year" tend to drag a bit, though I do like the more jazzy arrangements featuring bassist Jay Leonhart, pianist Mike Renzi and drummer Grady Tate.

Perhaps the biggest question I have about Clair De Lune & Sister Moon is why the two styles were combined in the first place. Admittedly, Young wanted to show not only the musical relationship of the two styles, but also subtle relationships between the songs themselves (for more details, check out the liner notes - I won't re-type them here). But somehow, I think the album would have worked a little better had Young stuck with one style. I wouldn't have even minded if this had been a two-disc set, one disc for each genre. But to my ears, constantly jumping from sparse to dense arrangements, French to English, gets a bit tiring.

Don't get me wrong, Clair De Lune & Sister Moon is by no means a bad album; I think everyone should check it out if only to open their minds up to the two competing forms of music. But had the focus been shifted, and had Young tried to stay in a range more comfortable with some of his vocals, I think this disc could have been that much better.

 

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ocean Records, and is used for informational purposes only.