Vocalist and trumpeter Bria Skonberg is a study in evolution. With her clear alto voice and agreeable trumpet playing, she appeals to jazz and pop fans alike. Her residency at Joe’s Pub in New York was the perfect showcase for new material, where the crowd is as appreciative of Monk as they are of Bowie. Skonberg recalls a different era, when all singers crooned over a jazz pulse. Her seventh album is an amalgam of pop-flavored jazz and blues, from gritty opener “Blackout” and rhythmic single “Villain Vanguard” to a slick cover of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” that Peggy Lee would love. Skonberg matches the Beatles with Duke Ellington on “Blackbird Fantasy,” merging the McCartney classic with Duke’s “Black and Tan Fantasy.” Clever instrumentation makes the most of a polished arrangement, as Skonberg sings the broken-winged lyric over a plaintive backing.
Unfortunately, cloying blues guitar and a thumping rock groove turn serious ambition into sugary commercial production. The album nosedives further with Skonberg’s “What Now,” a doo-woppy 6/8 ballad, and her version of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free,” which singlehandedly establishes a new marketing category: smooth rock (or is it the old yacht rock?). A fine player and a good singer, Skonberg may find that nothing never happens when you straddle a musical fence.