Bobby Kapp – El Guero Azul (2013)

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A New Jersey native living in Mexico, Bobby Kapp brings a sense of humor and fun to older classics and new originals that begins with the album’s title – “blue white boy” in Spanish.

After a boisterous opening instrumental, featuring Cuban pianist Gabriel Hernandez and called (appropriately enough) “Power Chords,” Kapp follows with his second straight original – the sly and ingratiating, Spanglish-sung “El Guero Azul.” Tenor man Jorge Brauet adds a grease-popping honk, giving the song a lascivious wit. Alex Guardiola then steps forward for a ringing trumpet solo, as clean and propulsive as anything put forward for legends like Arturo Sandoval – before Kapp throws a fun curveball with the addition of a bluesy turn on harmonica. He doesn’t present it, ala Toots Thielemans, as a jazz instrument but rather reshapes the tune to fit around his R&B soaked turn.

Already, El Guero Azul has shown itself to be as fizzy, offbeat delight.

Next, the group takes on Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town,” with bassist Jaime Ferrada and drummer Victor Monterrubio setting a torrid pace. Hernandez’s fleet fingers then open the door for a series of muscular lines from Brauet and Guardiola. By the time Kapp appears, ready to rip off another solo-like bit of scat-inflected singing, the track has reached cruising altitude. Kapp then lays out while Guardiola unleashes a stunning flurry of notes. “Fly Me to the Moon,” the Bart Howard standard, arrives then like a long, slow, stress-busting exhalation. He’s just as adept in one atmosphere as another.

That impressive, very musicianly approach to a lyric from Kapp – who’s had a varied and intriguing career in jazz – actually comes quite naturally. He’d played drums with Gato Barbieri and Dexter Gordon before ever turning his attentions to the microphone. From there, Kapp would place in the Top 10 at the well-known Monk International Vocal Competition, and subsequently mounted extensive tours with Gene Perla and the Fine Wine Trio.

Living now in the artist colony of San Miguel de Allende, Kapp’s collaboration with Hernandez also saw the pianist handling arrangements for El Guero Azul – and they are big part of what makes even the more shopworn selections from the Great American Songbook sizzle here. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” for instance, is given a regal makeover, providing the perfect platform for one of Kapp’s most considered vocals. “Naima,” the tricky Coltrane classic, offers a unique opportunity for this group to display its jazz chops – and Brauet, Kapp and the active but never distracting Monterrubio never disappoint.

Meanwhile, “Old Mexico” undulates with a smart sensuality, as Kapp riffs on a series of scenes from his adopted homeland. The similarly titled “Mexico City Blues” couldn’t be more different, as Kapp dives headlong into the harp-driven soul only hinted at earlier on the title track. When the rest of the group belatedly joins in, the song begins to jump and shimmy like an old Blue Note side.

Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” is a perfectly attenuated selection, as Kapp’s bop-styled phrasing seamlessly meshes. The original “Zuhia,” named after the Zihuatanejo fishing village on Mexico’s Costa Grande, flashes and feints like a particularly active school of underwater marine life – even as Kapp completely inhabits a sun-filled lyric that recalls nothing so much as Michael Franks.

Finally, there’s “Caravan” – the legendary Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington collaboration. Hernandez sets a lickety-split pace for Kapp to fill with his whiskey-soaked asides, before Brauet bursts in with a torrent of notes. Kapp answers with a gruff improvisation, matched step for step by his pianist. Finally, Guardiola brings the group back around to the main theme with a dizzy little Gillespie-esque run. It’s a tour-de-force finale to an endlessly involving vocal record with plenty of jazz chops.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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