With all the new albums from female jazz vocalists we’ve been inundated with lately, an album from a guy is at the least a change of pace. In the case of Beyond Up High, the debut CD from L.A.-based Jeffrey Gimble, it’s a cause for celebration. Gimble, we’re told, became involved in the jazz scene after moving to the West Coast from New York, where he was making a career in the theater. He may have turned to jazz later than some, but jazz was in his genes. His father, Maynard Gimble, was a saxophonist and band leader in Houston. And as they say, never is not as good as late.
Gimble has a voice and a swinging style that seems to take you back in time, but with a modern sensibility. If he doesn’t push the envelope as radically as a Kurt Elling, he has a contemporary sound all his own. The 10 tunes of Beyond Up High were specially chosen by the singer, along with pianist and arranger Tamir Hendleman and producer Mark Winkler, to show what Gimble could do with a variety of styles. “Mark, Tamir and I,” he says in his publicity, “worked very hard to pick these songs—I wanted to offer the listener an interesting ride, hoping that each song would feel like its own unique experience.” If that’s what they were going for, no question they succeeded.
There are some old standards: “Sweet and Lovely,” “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” and “All the Things You Are.” On “All the Things You Are,” he adds some vocalese lyrics of his own for an innovative touch, and on “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” he has some dynamic interplay with drummer Zach Harmon. There are a couple of jazz compositions: Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Hum Drum Blues,” and Chick Corea’s “High Wire.” This last offers an opportunity for some nice solo work from Hendleman and saxophonist Bob Sheppard.
“Agua De Beber,” an Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova, is another chance for Gimble to add some music and lyrics of his own, this time in concert with Hendleman. Then there’s “Creatures,” a seafood extravaganza Gimble had written (according to the liner notes) as an exercise for a lyric-writing class he was taking with producer Winkler. He does a nice job on the Bill Wither’s hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but I guess if I had to choose the standout song on the album, it would be his absolutely sensational interpretation of “Windmills of Your Mind,” a gorgeous song rendered beautifully.
Debut albums often get lost in the weeds. Beyond Up High deserves a better fate. Jeffrey Gimble deserves to be noticed. If you listen to his music, you’ll like what you hear.