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Tuesday, April 4, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 125

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Happy days

Tyrell takes us on a musical journey back to a better time in music


A New Standard

Steve Tyrell
Atlantic Records
17 tracks, 63:01

A-


By Jim Parsons
Daily Cougar Staff

If there's one immediate impression listeners take away from Steve Tyrell's A New Standard, it is happiness. It comes from all sides: from the jazz legends Tyrell makes music with, from the memories the pop standards conjure -- and, of course, from Tyrell himself.

His tender treatment of the classics has earned him praise from critics and musicians alike. Burt Bacharach wrote the liner notes for A New Standard, Rosemary Clooney adores Tyrell, and Sophia Loren even gives the album a spin once in a while.


Jazz musician Steve Tyrell revisits such timeless classics as "I'll Be Seeing You" and "The Way You Look Tonight" on his set A New Standard, in stores now.

William Claxton/Atlantic Records

It is amazing, then, to find out Tyrell hasn't been performing standards all his life. In fact, the native of Houston's Fifth Ward has spent most of his time in the music business producing and promoting acts from Dionne Warwick to LL Cool J. His introduction to the classic pop catalog came with an appearance in Father of the Bride, where he sang "The Way You Look Tonight."

That was literally the first standard Tyrell had ever performed, but it opened a new door for him. "Getting intimately involved with these incredibly well-written classics was a profound joy," he said.

And to make sure he got the mood right, Tyrell engaged some jazz legends to back him up on the album, including Plas Johnson, Joe Sample, Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans and trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison -- whose performance on Standard turned out to be his last.

The songs seem to be a comfortable fit for Tyrell's gravelly voice, backed by lush arrangements and the occasional solo that shows why the aforementioned jazz greats are still great. Some say Tyrell has added something fresh and innovative to the songs; that isn't necessarily so. What he has done is presented them, sans frills.

Perhaps the most innovative thing Tyrell has done is to update some of the more topical lyrics -- not major alterations at all. The album is (thankfully) free of the distracting revisions and omissions that often plague this type of recording.

The real freshness and innovation of A New Standard is rooted in the fact that these songs are worlds away from the popular music of today. That they are still performed 60 or 70 years since they were written is proof of their quality. The songs' sophistication, as Tyrell says, is representative of a bygone era.

That's a shame. Listening to "I'll Be Seeing You" (Tyrell's father's favorite), the winsome "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" or the tender "The Way You Look Tonight" makes you wish this kind of music was still being made.

Devotees of these songs will love A New Standard, and it's a great primer for anyone unfamiliar with them. I only wish Tyrell had cut loose a bit more -- with all the talent he assembled in the studio, there's no telling what might have happened. But the album clearly isn't meant to push any limits, and that's just fine.

As it stands, the CD is a polished, comfortable work that not only does justice to magnificent songs but leaves us with the expectation that Tyrell will follow up with something even better. Perhaps the best is yet to come.
 

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