When John Stetch led a piano trio through interpretations of television theme songs on a CD released a few years ago, I was intrigued, and ultimately, charmed, by this originative collection of covers. TV Trio, as this record is called, even wound up on my year-end “best of 2009″ list for mainstream and modern jazz, because he brought fresh arrangements to what are really some well-written tunes. By taking these songs out of their original context of just being bumper music for TV series, Stetch’s interpretations reminded me of how good these songs really are.
Another pianist and bandleader, Randy Hoexter, is also taking some old familiar pop songs from around the same era — the 70s — and shining them up, too. However, Hoexter made it much more challenging for himself because the songs he’s chosen were not selected because they are good; they were picked because they’re schmaltzy, mediocre and uninspiring. Calling the album Fromage, the French word for “cheese,” Hoexter gleefully takes on the challenge of polishing up turds, and you know what? He largely succeeds.
The secret, he’s found, is to remodel these songs so extensively that they are barely recognizable. As long as these covers don’t remind one of the originals too much, then the urge to vomit can be avoided and even listening enjoyment is possible. Hoexter, whose snappy arrangements takes the center stage, does manage to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, inserting chord progressions from “Caravan” into Cher’s 1971 chart topper “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” setting Helen Reddy’s #1 “Delta Dawn” (video of live performance below) to a 7/4 tempo and applying crisp, Latin motifs to Nick Deriso’s favorite guilty pleasure, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
In a counter-intuitive move, a female vocal was applied to the chorus sections of Debbie Boone’s 1977 11 week chart champ “You Light Up My Life” and Bobby Goldboro’s wretched “Honey,” which only serve to remind me of the originals…too much so. Aside from that misstep, it’s fairly easy to imagine these songs as good songs unrelated to the originals, and with Jimmy Haslip’s electric bass, David Weckl’s drums along with some of Atlanta’s finest sidemen forming a tight and nimble pocket big band, the songs are not just reconceived well, they’re performed better, too.
Fromage was self released April 24. Visit Randy Hoexter’s website for more info.