She is masterful at reinterpreting and reimagining beautiful older standards as well as some of the more modern pieces. She is at home with Hoagy Carmichael as she is with Michael Franks, with Lionel Hampton as with Paul Simon. In the end, Lauren is in command of each and every piece.
Plus, she has teamed with two greats in the persons of pianist and arranger Quinn Johnson and producer and vocalist Mark Winkler. Add to them the renowned Grant Geissman on guitar and a bullpen of fantastic artists from both coasts.
The album opens with the title track, Life in the Modern World. Johnson introduces the piece with a piano riff that serves as the perfect transition from Lauren’s Out of the Past; Jazz & Noir. Grant Geissman’s guitar licks and Michael Stever’s flugelhorn passages are beautifully supportive of Lauren’s narrative lyricism. These are magnificent arrangements with magnificent musicianship from all involved.
Marvin Smith’s drums provide a rollicking intro into ‘Till I Get It Right. Johnson’s piano leads the horns, bass and drums until Lauren and Mark Winkler sing their call and response. Kevin Axt gives a great bass line. This one swings.
Signing Off was an Ella Fitzgerald recording with Ella herself writing the lyrics. Talk about a hidden treasure. Lauren sings it with the piano, bass and drum trio and Johnson gives a sweet solo in the piece. Pay attention to Axt’s bass work. It is a perfect showcase for Lauren, just her vocals and the trio make for some sultry stuff.
Then she takes a leap backwards to 1944 with the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer standard, How Little We Know. It was from the great cinema classic To Have and Have Not. Johnson’s arrangement, however, changes up the piece with the cha-cha-cha rhythms. David Mann’s flute punctuates the middle passage with cool airiness. But, once again, it is Lauren’s delivery that deservedly captures the attention. I wish the other Lauren (Bacall) could have heard this.
Michael Frank’s Monk’s New Tune has the team of Axt and Chris Wabich on bass and drums. Wabich is a favorite. Franks has a way of creating precise and often demanding lyrics and vocals. Lauren takes it in stride and makes it look easy. This was a fun piece.
Coffee is a contemporary composition by Ken Kresge and Ron Boustead. It appears on Boustead’s own album. It captures the coffee culture of the Pacific Coast perfectly. Alex Budman’s horn is just gorgeous and Quinn’s piano adds so much. None of the musicians go over the top. They add splendidly to the real focus of the album, Lauren’s amazing voice.
Oh, yeah. Then comes the Lionel Hampton/Johnny Mercer standard Midnight Sun. Eli Brueggemann wrote the arrangement and the rhythm section gets a chance to get positively funky. Johnson and Wabich trade off on the punctuating beats and Axt lays down a hopping bass line that all merges into what may the most intricate and interesting piece on the album. Lauren takes this well-known and oft-performed standard and just owns it. I mean she just owns it.
Slow Down is a hot piece that features three horns in the Johnson arrangement. Lauren sings in sync with Stever’s trumpet and Francisco Torres’ trombone. The quirky rhythms are perfect for Axt and Smith. Listen carefully for Axt’s treble touches.
Ellington’s Sound of Love is that wondrous piece by Charles Mingus. The track is performed only by Johnson, Axt, and Wabich in support of Lauren. What a piece. What a performance. Lauren works it beautifully.
Things change up with In a New York Minute. It takes on a big band feel and Mark Winkler returns for some background vocals. It is sassy and street-smart. The horns nail it with especially spotlighted trombone blasts from Torres. Lauren’s narration is cool and well-placed.
The album wraps up with Paul Simon’s American Tune. Despite never having heard the original, Johnson gave the arrangement a contemporary feel that lifts it from its 70s milieu. It is a fine treatment that makes the song an exacting commentary on life in the new millennium.
Indeed, the entire album is just that kind of commentary on how far we’ve come and, in many cases, how far we have yet to go. Lauren hasn’t just given us an entertaining album of amazing vocals and musicianship. She has achieved her goal.
She has shown us Life in the Modern World.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl