Monday, January 14, 2008

Let It Go

It looks like the liner photos for Jon Regen’s new CD, Let It Go, were shot at the surprisingly photogenic Steinway & Sons piano factory in Queens. It would make sense, since Regen is a Steinway artist, like his early mentor, Kenny Barron. While Regen often records in a singer-songwriter bag, he has deep jazz roots, which he pays tribute to in this month’s Keyboard magazine with a profile of Barron. Regen writes: “Even after years of listening to the liturgy of jazz piano, hearing Kenny for the first time changed everything for me.”

Barron stressed the need for flexibility with his students, and Regen appears to have taken that to heart, as Let It Go, is a melodic set of vocal pop tunes, seasoned with jazz accents. Fortunately, Regen has the chops for it. His voice is strong and clear, with a slight edge for character. (While it is well suited to his songs, it would be interesting to hear him try a hoary old blues standard sometime.)

The title track is a great opener, with the piano and drums really jumping out of the speakers (the audio engineers out there should approve). It is a bit unusual to hear a song of female empowerment written from a sympathetic male perspective, but Regen delivers the lyrics convincingly, and his piano gives it a great driving vibe.

The next track, “It’s Alright By Me,” suggests a Randy Newman influence. As a serenade for a quirky courtship, it really sounds tailor-made for a film soundtrack. Again, Regen’s vocal interpretation comes across honestly, and the mix of piano and organ is always a great combination.

Andy Summers, one of several high profile guests on LIG, is of course best known as a member of the Police. However, in his solo work he has recorded jazz, so it makes sense he could relate to Regen’s pop vocal/jazz crossover music. He lends of his guitar to “Close to Me,” which thematically recalls “Every Breath You Take,” but is less stalkerish.

Another well known artist joining Regen is Martha Wainwright, adding subtle backing vocals on the heartfelt “I Come Undone.” Throughout LIG, loss and hope alternate as themes in Regen’s songs. While “Undone” is most definitely conveys the former, a tune like “Better Days” nicely expresses the latter. Regen’s jazz roots peak out occasionally too. He plays a brief instrumental solo fittingly called “Interlude,” and “Disappear,” has some space for piano statements.

I may be a jazz person more than a pop person (safe understatement) but I do get to a number of Broadway shows, so I feel comfortable giving Regen credit as a songwriter. He has crafted some catchy melodies with some memorable lyrics. I have often found myself humming the title track over the last week or so. It should definitely appeal to fans of his songwriting influences, like Newman and Bruce Hornsby.

(Note: Regen will play the Highline Ballroom 1/30 before leaving on a European tour.)