Steve Tyrell numbers among that tiny coterie of contemporary vocalists whose appeal extends beyond the jazz cognoscenti. Like Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Jane Monheit, Tyrell gets plenty of ink, major displays in record stores, significant airplay and all the other perks that go with crossover success-as he should. He's a talented guy with good taste and an arresting, sandpaper-on-silk voice. Tyrell's greatest talent, honed no doubt throughout his years as a pop-oriented A&R exec and Hollywood composer, is for palatability.
And therein lies the problem. With Tyrell there are no risks. With no risks come few rewards. It was true of his previous album, the best-selling A New Standard, and is equally true of his indistinguishable new collection, Standard Time (Columbia CK 86006; 56:04). The arrangements are solid, the sidemen are first class-Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, Harry Edison and the like-and yet there's a stupefying sameness to it all. "It Had to Be You," "As Time Goes By," "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and a dozen others are delivered with calculated, cookie-cutter level-headedness. Only on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with Monheit on hand to liven things up, does the sameness subside. It's like buying a Frank Lloyd Wright house and painting everything beige, or putting a Porsche engine in a Pontiac station wagon. Tyrell's got style and skill, but seems bent on eschewing urban edginess in favor of suburban monotony. Still, I'll keep listening, and keep hoping that, someday soon, he'll dare to step out of the safety zone.