There are great jazz singers. There are great cabaret singers. Then there’s the coterie of uniquely gifted stylists who straddle the border comfortably, seamlessly blending keen jazz instincts with the storytelling élan that fuels cabaret. Ann Hampton Callaway is one, Ian Shaw another. It’s a rather exclusive club. And its membership now grows by one with the addition of Britain’s Mark Jennett.
Actually, Jennett has been a staple of the London club scene for years, appearing regularly at top spots like Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex. And he’s recorded one previous album, The Way I Am, a fine collection of standards produced by vocalist Anita Wardell five years ago. But this overdue sophomore disc truly marks Jennett’s arrival. As an interpreter, he echoes Shaw’s delightfully curious blend of breezy insouciance and laser-sharp intelligence, yet hints of Jim Caruso’s showmanship and Michael Feinstein’s charm are just as evident.
The eclectic playlist bounces from sturdy chestnuts and vintage show tunes to more contemporary fare by Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Jimmy Webb, the mood often shifting dramatically. And yet it works, much of the credit due to producer, arranger and bassist Geoff Gascoyne (a key contributor to Jamie Cullum’s rise to stardom). His deft touches include a bluesy reimagining of “Some People”; a sly, soulful overhaul of Sweet Charity‘s typically overcooked “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”; and a sage, pensive take on Simon’s “Train in the Distance.”