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Chris Humphrey: Nothing But Blue Sky

You might remember Chris Humphrey from a half-dozen years ago, when he lent his singing, arranging and composing talents to Almost Blue, the Ritz’s 1991 tribute to Stan Getz. Four years later, he teamed with Boston-based pianist Mark Shilansky and two Billy Mays Trio-mates, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Martin Wood, to lay down these 11 tracks. The market for new jazz singers being what it is, it has taken until now for the album’s release. With any luck-and I have my fingers firmly crossed-such delays won’t plague Humphrey’s next disc. His is a talent that deserves to flourish.

Comparisons will be made to Kurt Elling, and they’re valid. Though Humphrey isn’t as boldly experimental, as fluidly outré, as his Chicago counterpart, his jazz instincts are just as acute, his instrument just as finely tuned. Listen to how he sets Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” alight on wings of tremulously joyful hope; hear how perfectly he shapes “If I Should Lose You,” recognizing, as so many singers don’t, that it’s not a song about loss but about the thrillingly heart-stopping thought of possibly losing someone irreplaceable; appreciate genius at work as he shimmies through Hendricks-land on “Swingin’ ‘Til the Girls Come Home,” then proves an impeccable accompanist to his own accompanists on a wordless “In Walked Bud.” But Chris isn’t the only Humphrey who makes this album outstanding. Jenn Humphrey (presumably his wife, though the accompanying notes don’t confirm so) contributes lyrics worthy of Bob Dorough or Dave Frishberg to Monk’s “Friday the 13th” and teams with Chris to craft the gorgeous “Anna’s Song (Safe In My Arms)” and “Lullaby for Jackson.” By the time Chris ascends “Every Time I Hear the Spirit” to close this exceptional disc, you’ll know you’re in company of the next great American jazz singer.

Originally Published