Having occupied the enviable position of vocal jazz critic for JazzTimes for nearly a decade, the claim that I’ve heard just about everything seemed safely legitimate. Until, that is, the latest album from Julian Yeo crossed my desk. After an initial spin of Yeo’s self-produced Deep Purple Dreams, I had to wonder if he is intentionally toying with us. I immediately thought of music reviewers from a half-century ago who were left dumbstruck by the sheer dreadfulness of 1957’s The Original Piano Artistry of Jonathan Edwards, Vocals by Darlene Edwards, unaware that the tone-deaf husband-and-wife lounge act was actually Paul Weston and Jo Stafford turning their favorite parlor trick into an album-length comedic tour de force. Was Yeo clever enough to pull off a similarly cunning deception? (Actually, the ‘clever’ part isn’t debatable. Yeo earned both a Master of Finance degree and a PhD from the University of Melbourne in his native Australia. Between vocal gigs, he toils as an Assistant Professor at Manhattan’s Columbia Business School).
I’ve heard Yeo sing before. He calls himself a “retro-jazz vocalist with a ‘new-old’ approach,” a description that aptly summarizes his slight Ivor Novello-meets-the-young-Crosby style of crooning. His range is somewhat limited, but his phrasing is full and polished and his appreciation for vintage Tin Pan Alley tunes is heartfelt. His previous albums won’t have caused Tony Bennett to lose any sleep, but they ably serve up classy renderings of time-honored standards.