Chris Humphrey

Nothing But Blue Sky

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Male vocalists, regrettably, have been a minority in the jazz world for a long time. So when a male jazz singer starts to record on his own, one is anxious to hear what he sounds like. Although Chris Humphrey has been active in the jazz world since the '80s, Nothing But Blue Sky is the New Englander's first album as a leader -- and this 61-minute CD shows him to be a skillful, if derivative, vocalist who has been greatly influenced by Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks. Humphrey, who was 39 when he recorded this disc in 2005, has been compared to Kurt Elling; however, Nothing But Blue Sky isn't a matter of Humphrey actually being influenced by Elling but rather, a demonstration of the fact that they share a few of the same influences (namely, Murphy and Hendricks). Although Humphrey isn't as daring as Elling, he has a lot going for him. Humphrey is an expressive, warm interpreter of lyrics, and his interpretive skills are put to good use on songs ranging from the traditional African-American spiritual "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" to Duke Ellington's "Solitude" (which he performs in an impressionistic fashion) to Johnny Nash's 1972 hit "I Can See Clearly Now"; in contrast to Nash's ultra-sunny version, Humphrey approaches the song with cautious optimism. Humphrey embraces Hendricks' lyrics when he tackles Oscar Pettiford's "Swingin' 'Til the Girls Come Home," but on a wordless version of "In Walked Bud," he surprises us by scatting his way through the Thelonious Monk standard instead of performing Hendricks' lyrics as some might expect given his obvious admiration for Hendricks. Nothing But Blue Sky won't win any awards for being the most groundbreaking jazz vocal recording of the 2000s, but it's a solid and engaging demonstration of the skills that Humphrey brings to the table.

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