Rick Braun: Sings With Strings

Among the coterie of jazz musicians who occasionally serve up a side of vocals, two of the finest practitioners were Chet Baker and Bobby Troup. Smooth trumpet virtuoso Rick Braun, a now-and-then singer for most of his career, takes what is being touted as his first full-length dive into the vocal pool-it’s not, as he delivered a Japan-only album of pop vocals in the mid-’80s-and surfaces midway between Baker and Troup.

Though Braun lacks the vocal distinctiveness of either, there are hints of Baker’s ethereal haziness, most evident on a faraway “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and of Troup’s blasé hipsterism, particularly on “Say It (Over and Over Again),” the album’s standout track. And Braun’s keen musicianship, much wider and deeper than he’s often given credit for, allows him to winningly elevate what is a sturdy, if average, voice.

Actually, it is producer, arranger, orchestrator and pianist/percussionist Philippe Saisse who does most of the heavy lifting. Saisse, who proved so estimable a collaborator on Braun’s previous album, 2009’s All It Takes, establishes settings for all 11 standards that, while lushly atmospheric, never become cloying. It’s rather like taking an unprepossessing bride and, with the right combination of silk and lace, transforming her into a striking beauty. Of course, Braun is both bride and bridesmaid, enhancing the overall effect with subtly elegant flugelhorn embroidery.