Remember the standard song “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”? I pondered that title as a whimsical question while listening to Gary Brumburgh’s imaginatively arranged, swinging, graceful and frequently bluesy album Moonlight. The answer that came to me? “Plenty.”
The back story of this recording is fascinating in itself. Between the release of his 2007 debut Up Jumped Spring and now, the veteran singer and stage and screen actor battled and miraculously survived two bouts of neck and tonsil cancer – which makes the light of the moon a guiding metaphor forward. Veteran L.A. jazz producer Barbara Brighton saw him guesting at a show at Vitello’s in Studio City and approached him with the idea of doing an album. Agreeing to sessions is one thing, crafting an exquisite independent jazz gem is quite another. Brumburgh’s inspirational tale of survival would only go so far if he wasn’t a master interpreter able to adapt his phrasing to the emotional needs and tempo of the song. He’s all speediness and lightheartedness on the brisk medley “Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown,” yet effortlessly plumbs deeper emotional terrain with thoughtful restraint on slowed down versions of 60’s classics “Wichita Lineman” and “My World Is Empty Without You.”
Moonlight works on many levels. First, there’s the clever choice of material, including an always welcome classic from Dusty Springfield (“Just a Little Lovin’ (Early in the Moring),” a rootsy, steel guitar driven take on an obscure Sting tune (“Heavy Cloud No Rain”) and a trippy swing through “Day Tripper.” It says a lot about Brumburgh as a vocalist and the power of pianist Jamieson Trotter’s arrangements that the singer’s take on the title track (the John Williams-Marilyn and Alan Bergman composed theme to the 1995 remake of “Sabrina”) is far more engaging than Sting’s staid original.
Because he’s working with one of the hippest and experienced jazz producers in L.A., Brumburgh has the benefit of the great musicianship of both Jamieson and his dad Terry Trotter (this is the first time they have played together on a single project), Bob Sheppard (sax and flute), guitarists Pat Kelley and Larry Koonse, bassist Gabe Davis (who opens “Day Tripper” with a plucky solo before tapping into the familiar motif) and drummers Christian Euman and Conor Molloy. Listen closely to Brumburgh and Moonlight and you’ll feel there’s a lot it can do, too!