The debut album from Juilliard-trained Texan Alan Leatherman is, quite literally, an intriguing demonstration of emerging talent. At first, the all-standards set unfurls like a vintage black-and-white film, with Leatherman’s burnished baritone hovering midway between the laidback gentility of Nat King Cole and the befogged allure of Chet Baker. His is a gentlemanly approach-elegant, unhurried and distinctly understated. It’s all lovely, if a bit flavorless. Indeed, it seems more a showcase for pianist Rick Germanson, whose cascading flourishes significantly brighten the sepia-toned primness.
Then, seven tracks in, just as an eminently graceful “This Is Always” is winding down and Gerald Cannon has concluded a gorgeously warm bass solo, Leatherman steps in with 45 seconds of Elling-esque vocalese. Like a chili pepper dropped into a hearty but bland stew, there’s a sudden burst of color and a marvelous enriching of flavor. That brief but intensely vibrant promise is fulfilled two tracks later when Leatherman dives headlong into “Parker’s Mood,” expertly navigating the tight curves of King Pleasure’s wordplay. A fine, slow-struttin’ “I Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues” follows, then Leatherman concludes with his sole departure from the standards catalog-a vividly poignant reading of Groove Theory alum Amel Larrieux’s “No One Else.”
Across just 49 minutes, Leatherman progresses from bespoke balladeer, inviting but hardly distinctive, to intrepid interpreter: a potentially welcome addition to the impressive crop of young male stylists-José James, Gregory Porter, Milton Suggs and Sachal Vasandani principal among them-that is propelling post-millennial jazz singing.