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JC Hopkins Biggish Band featuring Queen Esther: Underneath a Brooklyn Moon

Rossini once wrote, “Wagner has some good minutes, but boring hours.” That quip comes to mind regarding this project. There are good moments here, but they happen despite JC Hopkins’ conceptions. He features a fine singer, Queen Esther, plus a few good sidemen among the 13 taking part-and weighs them down with original material that seldom exceeds mediocrity. His songs lack form, often sounding like he’s glued melodies to already-existing poems. The worst lyrics out of the nine tunes are by Norah Jones on “One Never Knows,” and that one is as weak as JC’s only stab at words, on the title tune.

Queen Esther, who would probably be more comfortable belting down-home blues, rises above the awkward phrases. She does a good job on “Small Town,” a thinly disguised 12-bar blues, and “Someday,” which ends on the dominant 7th. (Is JC suggesting that life is unresolved?) Among instrumentalists, altoist Cleave Guyton, tenorist Patience Higgins and French hornist Vincent Chancey should be singled out. Above all, trombonist/arranger J. Walter Hawkes deserves accolades for channeling Tricky Sam Nanton’s plunger sounds on “Show Biz’ness.” The arrangements suffer from clutter in the rhythm section: vibes, guitar, piano, bass and drums. Horn and baritone sax don’t help. Neither does a 21-second instrumental called “Ice Cream Song,” which is like many of Hopkins’ ideas: totally unmotivated.

Originally Published