Good Merlin is a debut release in more ways than one. The recording is The Chaz Lipp Groove Tripp‘s first full-length offering. Led by saxophonist Chaz Lipp, the tracks feature Sanjaya Malakar on vocals, who is widely known as a finalist on the popular TV program American Idol during the 2007 season. Good Merlin is also Malakar’s debut as a jazz vocalist on a full-length release. The first for both Lipp and Malakar proves that one can get it right on a premier undertaking, as these two have done.
An iconic gospel aria, “God Bless the Child” in Lipp’s and Malakar’s hands, takes the familiar spiritual etude into soul-pop terrain. The gentle throbbing in Lipp’s saxophone forms undulating crests and falls that carry listeners away on the wings of angels. Malakar’s bluesy toned vocals wrap around the strolling tempo, infusing the track with a warm pathos. A signature tune by Billy Strayhorn often performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Take the A Train” showcases Lipp’s nimble improvising. The rendering harks a remembrance of such luminaries of jazz as John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon, as the soft sizzle of Chris Patin’s cymbal strikes add kindle to the smolder coming from Charlie Hiestand’s rattling keys.
The deep resonance of the keys are modulated to intensify the rich texture of Malakar’s vocals, embracing a Nat King Cole favorite to play, “Nature Boy.” The smooth pulsations of the saxophone’s wails are refined, as Lipp pens descriptive narratives, translated into melodic form. The grooving swells of the sax outfitting the title track have an improvised edge that transitions into a Mississippi blues-style caterwauling along “Watermelon Man.”
The spiritual aura of “Georgia on My Mind” is saddled in a funky dancehall-like exuberance, which chisels a sultry crackle through “Fever.” The latter will remind audiences of the stealth and sophistication of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. The arrangements are hewn to produce a mood, as the silky meanderings of the sax and keys branding “Summertime” radiate a summery vibe. The pair switch to freestyle squiggles, twisting and twitching along “Fly by Night,” engaging in a spontaneous conversation. The extemporaneous slant of their dialogue demonstrates their catalytic bonding and congenial rapport.
The debut effort from Lipp and Malakar achieves what masters of the jazz craft have pursued throughout their lifetime: music that moves people emotionally, affecting their mood and perceptions in a positive direction. Getting it right, achieving one’s goals can indeed happen on the first try as asserted by Good Merlin.
Chaz Lipp – saxophone, Sanjaya Malakar – vocals, Charlie Hiestand – piano, Trevor Pelletier – bass, Chris Patin – drums
“God Bless the Child,” “Take the A Train,” “Nature Boy,” “Good Merlin,” “Watermelon Man,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Groovy Green Eyes,” “Fever,” “Summertime,” “Fly by Night”