Drowned in Sound: Harry Connick, Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carre: Connick on Piano, Volume 3

Drowned in Sound
Harry Connick, Jr.
Chanson du Vieux Carre: Connick on Piano, Volume 3
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

Despite the golden reputation he has made as both an actor and a jazz crooner, Harry Connick Jr. has never played it safe. After rising to prominence and winning a Grammy by performing jazz standards on the soundtrack album for When Harry Met Sally...in 1989, Connick went through a few serious alterations to his style before coming back to the jazz that made him famous. A recent trend with Connick has been to get away from his Frank Sinatra-channeling vocals and put a greater spotlight on his skills as a jazz pianist. The result now sees the third volume of his instrumental Connick on Piano series, Chanson du Vieux Carre, released simultaneously with the (not reviewed) vocal album Oh, My NOLA.
As one might guess, both albums are directly inspired by Connick's hometown of New Orleans and the music of the city. But whereas Oh, My NOLA was released on Sony, Chanson was put out by the jazz specialty label Marsalis Music. It would not have fared so well on a major label, because this is pure big band jazz of a sort long thought dead or simply antiquated.
Actually, part of the charm of big band jazz really is how antiquated it sounds. That feeling is all over Chanson, effective to the point that you want to help pull the cobwebs out of the band's trumpet bells. Only two tracks feature any sort of singing, none of which comes from Connick's golden pipes; he is much too content focusing on the ivories for this to be a problem. His voice is a huge asset whenever it appears on record, but it's hard to fault him for trying to see where he can go without it.
The songs themselves are, predictably enough, mostly standards; in fact, the solid opening track is a rendition of Louis Armstrong's "Someday You'll Be Sorry." Connick really knows his source material and digs deep for the good choices, striking gold with "That's A Plenty" and "Fidgety Feet." But the most perfect send-up of all is found in "Panama," a local standard of sorts that could easily pass for New Orleans' theme song. Only three songs are Connick-penned, with decent results: "Ash Wednesday" is overlong and features the most grating trumpet notes imaginable, but the title track and the standard-quality "Luscious" pull their own weight without fail.
With that said, Connick's latest is anything but accessible. The album takes a few songs to grow on you, and some of the improvisation by Connick's players is startlingly lackluster. While not a spectacular release by any means, there's something so refreshing about hearing old time jazz on a modern-day record that it makes Chanson du Vieux Carre irresistible for the sentimentalists out there. It's also a convincing document of New Orleans culture, bringing the luster back to a city that has seen better days as of late.
Rating: 3 out of 5