For a few minutes during the early 1990s, a revival of the so-called lounge music of the 1950s and ’60s was all the rage. Given hipper, updated names like space-age bachelor-pad music and exotica, it was an exaggerated reboot of what might originally have just passed as easy listening—light, melodic, mostly instrumental tunes incorporating ethnic rhythms (bossa nova, mambo, etc.) and electronica, intended to serve more as aural wallpaper than to encourage scrutiny. Today it survives via a handful of acts like Pink Martini, but the craze itself subsided long ago.
Related to all that in spirit if not style was the type of vocal music one might actually hear in a cocktail lounge or a hotel piano bar, popular songs sung in the style of Sinatra or Peggy Lee—jazz-rooted, meant to be paid attention to. Bria Skonberg, the trumpeter and vocalist, is inspired by both variations on the Matt Pierson-produced With a Twist, citing in her press material “Esquivel, Perez Prado, maybe some Spike Jones.” It’s goodtime music, but it’s not fluff. Not when the artist possesses chops like hers.
Accompanied by a core band featuring Sullivan Fortner on piano, Gil Goldstein (who arranged six of the tracks) on keyboards and accordion, Scott Colley on bass and Matt Wilson on drums, Skonberg aces arrangements that are often lush, multi-textured and dramatic; background music this is not. Skonberg’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” the Nina Simone-associated opener, takes off at a clip, the trumpeter peeling off a rapid-fire solo unlikely to have found a home on those earlier efforts. Damn Yankees’ “Whatever Lola Wants,” all wrapped up in tango, oozes melt-in-your-mouth sensuality, and both the Ed Sheeran-penned “Thinking Out Loud” and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”—the former NOLA-funky and the latter fragile and moody—extend into regions that would seem downright alien in your basic retro tiki bar.