For those as yet unfamiliar with veteran NYC singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Paul Jost, nothing you’ve heard before in the vocal jazz realm truly prepares your heart and spirit for being graced with his wondrously diverse and impactful artistry and deeply insightful social consciousness on While We Were Gone: Live at the Soapbox Gallery – an expansive and ambitious 23 track (2 CD, for those still purchasing physical product) collection recorded by him and his stellar, inventive quartet at the popular Brooklyn artist and performance space over several shows from December 2020 through April 2021.
Literally and metaphorically/ symbolically, Jost is a much needed visionary voice of our time, meeting our fraught collective moment with empathy, soulfulness and ultimately, a sliver of forward thinking hope. The literal part of that equation, as shared on the current project, is Jost’s intensely expressive, Tony Bennett styled vocal rasp and wild and feisty scatting as he artfully imagines pop/Songbook standards we often take for granted as provocative vehicles that help him, and hopefully by extension, his listeners, make a modicum of sense out of an increasingly off-kilter world.
His core ensemble – pianist Jim Ridl, drummer Tim Horner and bassist Dean Johnson, with contributions on certain tracks from bassists Lorin Cohen and Martin Wind – takes the free flow live format to the max, blending high octane improvisations with sweet sensitivity throughout the songs that achieve this aim – including “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Ev’rybody’s Talkin’,” “Young and Foolish,” “Sunshine Superman” and, from Randy Newman (one of the singer’s favorite composers), the beautiful tandem knockout of “Feels Like Home” and “Marie.”
Jost’s metaphoric/symbolic voice finds its outlet on the reflective and incisive spoken word social commentaries touching on recent troubling events that launch each disc. The first, a suite called “Poetic Justice” begins with his lonesome harmonica rendering of “Shenandoah” before a segue into the hard hitting recitation “Lies of Convenience” and a single line tribute (“Forever”) to George Floyd and concluding with a marvelous scat segment called “Who Says?”
Disc 2 opens with a lengthy and equally biting short essay on the events of January 6 titled “An Appeal for Reason,” which eases seamlessly into the hopeful antidote, Jost’s whimsical and hopeful lines from “If I Ruled The World” – which offer a way forward and pay a bit of homage to Bennett.
Listen to While We Were Gone here: https://open.spotify.com/album/2DP1uoR53ZXlfLFR6J3x0M