Harry Connick, Jr.

Other Hours: Connick on Piano, Vol. 1

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Harry Connick, Jr. spent most of the '90s exploring second-line funk, making a name for himself in movies, and generally distancing himself from his classic crooner image. By the late '90s, it seemed as if the pianist/vocalist had lost the plot and it was hard to remember what made him such a phenomenal jazz talent. Then came 1997's romantic orchestral album To See You, followed by Connick's response to the neo-swing movement of the late '90s, Come by Me. Both of these albums featured Connick performing straight-ahead jazz that capitalized on his "American songbook"-style composing abilities and urbane, laconic vocal drawl. It was clear he was finally returning to his jazz roots with mature chops and a modern sophistication all his own. In this spirit, 2003's Other Hours featuring Charles "Ned" Goold on tenor sax, Neal Caine on bass, and Arthur Latin II on drums is Connick's return to playing straight-ahead, all original, modern instrumental jazz. Not since 1990's Lofty's Roach Souffle has the musician-turned-actor attempted this, and maybe he really shouldn't have. That is not to say Other Hours is bad; on the contrary, it showcases the entertainer's finely developed piano chops as well as his engaging compositional style. It's just that to deny such a strong aspect of his talent as his singing in favor of a more "serious" musical endeavor -- i.e., an instrumental jazz album -- is to somehow drain a bit of the fun and romance out of the proceedings. However, Connick's appearance at the Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration concert proved he still had the improvisational knack -- his solo turn sitting next to Ellis Marsalis was easily one of the night's highlights. In fact, the elder Marsalis' influence can be heard throughout the disc, especially on the post-bop set-opener "What a Waste." It's nice to hear the man some once thought of as a Sinatra-wannabe attacking some up-tempo swingers with a bumptious New Orleans glee. It is also refreshing to hear a few of his other influences come to the fore, as the pairing of Goold and Connick on tunes like "How About Tonight" brings to mind the Dave Brubeck quartet with Paul Desmond. Elsewhere, Connick oozes a Gershwin-like melancholy on "My Little World," waxes Thelonious Monk on "Dumb Luck," and delivers the bittersweet "'nuff said" ballad "Can't We Tell." OK, we get it, Harry Connick, Jr. is a legitimate jazz pianist, but one can only assume there are lyrics to some of these songs, and it would have been nice to hear them.

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