By Micheal Marsh
In a musical world where more and more artists are beginning to sound like each other, there is one artist who always stands alone with his own distinctive style. When you hear a Michael Franks CD, there’s no mistaking it for any other artist out there. With his latest CD release, "Rendezvous In Rio", on the Koch label, Franks continues to give us his superb signature sound in an interesting 10 song set. As might be expected from the title of the CD, many of the cuts on this latest release have a definite Latin flavor to them. Despite the Latin influences of much of the music, the vocal work by Franks is just what Michael Franks fans have come to expect from him. The first track “Under The Sun” provides a nice lead off to the CD, that sets the tone nicely for the remaining tracks to follow. "Under The Sun" is a smooth-grooving latin-flavored number on which Franks is joined by Chuck Loeb with a mellow guitar and Carman Cuesta Loeb (Chuck Loeb’s wife), who joins Franks on vocals. Next on the CD appears the title cut, “Rendezvous In Rio”, a slightly upbeat bossa nova number. It’s not one of my favorites on the CD, but it is not a bad song. It’s just that most of the other cuts are much better, in my opinion. On the third track, “The Cool School”, Franks departs from the Latin theme and pays tribute to the old school jazz sound, and artists such as Mose Allison and Chet Baker, leaving no doubt that his musical influences are firmly rooted in old school jazz. Franks is once again joined by Chuck Loeb on this one, who provides a mellow guitar background that blends very nicely with Franks’ vocal work. The fourth track “Samba do Soho” is another upbeat latin-flavored number, reminiscent of the sound of Sergio Mendez and Brazil ’66 from about five decades ago. The fifth track “The Critics Are Never Kind” is a very lyrically interesting number on which Franks lands some well-placed haymakers on the chins of the critics who simply criticize artists (such as himself) and, have no idea what it’s like to actually create music. The gentle musical background stands in stark contrast to the stinging lyrics on this one, and it is one of my favorites on the CD. The next track “Scatsville” is an interesting upbeat bopping jazz number, on which Franks is joined by Jeff Lorber on keyboard and Alex Al on bass. Gary Meeks, on sax, provides an excellent accompaniment to Franks’ vocals on this one. On the seventh track, Franks sings about the “Chemistry Of Love”. This is another mellow latin-flavored number on which Franks is joined by Jeff Lorber, as he sings to us about the search for true love. Track eight is another nostalgic trip back in musical time, entitled "Hearing Take Five", on which Franks laments about the days of JFK, Frank Sinatra, and a certain song by Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond which literally blew him away (as it did many of us music lovers). Even though I was much more into James Brown and The Temptations in the early sixties, I still remember how Brubeck’s "Take Five" always caught my ear and blew me away, whenever my father would play it on his stereo. Jimmy Haslip plays electric bass and Eric Marienthal provides the sexy sax work on "Hearing Take Five", as well as the next cut, "The Question Is Why". The last track on the CD, "Songbirds", is a mellow tune on which Franks laments about the songbirds of the past who have sung the beautiful songs that have impacted us the most and then, left us all too soon. I’m not sure which songbirds Franks had in mind when he recorded this song, but certainly Minnie Riperton and Billie Holiday immediately come to my mind.
"Rendezvous In Rio" is a very nice CD and I recommend it highly. If you are already a Michael Franks fan, this CD will fit right in with the rest of your collection. For those of you who are not familiar with Michael Franks, this will definitely be a good introductory CD for you to check out. I give this one four stars out of a possible five.
Michael Marsh is the jazz reviewer for TNCP. To make contact, you may e-mail him at email@example.com for review.