The mashup, the art of not just simple synthesis but delicate, layered weaving, is a volatile process. There’s an ideal balance of elements where something new is created without sacrificing the character of the original parts. Bay Area pianist Clifford Lamb, a subdued bop player, makes a case for the mashup jazz track with his new album Blues & Hues. Featuring his regular, all-star quartet of drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, bassist Buster Williams, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, Lamb weaves together standards old and new with his own compositions.
The quartet certainly plays well together. On the title track, which incorporates Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba,” Payton’s trumpet resounds clear, true, and bright, gliding above the shifting melodies and rhythms laid down by Lamb, Williams, and Santana. Elsewhere the quartet saunters and waltzes through “Me and You,” Lamb’s blend of “I Loves You Porgy” with his own ballad “You’re My Everything.” Lamb ditches the quartet at a couple of points to see what other mixes he can make, including a duet with flutist Scott Mayo on a somewhat stiff threading of Lamb’s “Echoes” with Jamie Cullum and Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.”
These performances are all fun and certainly provide a novel twist on these numbers, but they don’t add any deeper understanding. The sport of Lamb’s exercise comes crashing to a halt when he overreaches on “Peace Requiem”—an attempt to combine elements of a Lamb original, a spiritual standard, an indie rapper’s testifying, and McCoy Tyner’s signature “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” The result is a bloated five-minute polemic that sounds jury-rigged rather than truly integrated. Much like the album as a whole, it’s a promising premise that misses the envisioned execution.