The song titles alone on soprano saxophonist and vocalist Danny Bacher’s sophomore release provide a pre-listening hint of what to expect: They contain words like joy, fun, lucky, hooray, laughing, and—three separate times—happy. And just to make sure you’ve got the idea, the CD’s inner sleeve depicts the artist matching the grin on the smiley-face balloon he’s holding. Yes, there is also “Cloudy,” an update of the nearly century-old Bix Beiderbecke tune, paired in a medley with Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” but it’s the last tune on the album, so by then the exultant mood has long been set. No room for gloom here.
If that description suggests that Still Happy (itself a distillation of a Bacher original called “In Spite of All This, I’m Still Happy”) might be some kind of cloying, terminally gushy affair, no worries. The positivity within these smartly arranged and superbly executed performances is often more implied than overt; if the music gets a smile out of you too, consider that a bonus.
On the standards—the likes of “Get Happy” and “Hooray for Hollywood”—Bacher’s loosey-goosey vocalizing (he’s no Tony Bennett, nor is he trying to be) acts as a setup for the most serious thing about this Jeff Levenson-produced set: the jams. Trading licks with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and trumpeter/flugelhornist Charles Caranicas, Bacher isn’t afraid to drift out toward the edges. Pianist Allen Farnham (who doubles as arranger) and a crack rhythm section of bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Alvester Garnett, and percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos provides muscle and flavor. Whether kicking up dust on the jumpy, scat-centric original “Joie de Vivre” or kicking back on the ballad “Lazy Afternoon,” Bacher and company opt to shed pretense and solemnity and just play their hearts out. It’s contagious.