Trombonist Eric Felten has kept some pretty heavy company in the past. His debut disc T-Bop
featured an as-yet-unsigned Joshua Redman on tenor saxophone. Gratitude
, Felten’s sophomore effort, featured no fewer than three major players: Saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and clarinetist Bob Mintzer. On these first two releases, Felten proved himself an exceptional trombonist in the J.J. Johnson mold (as if any contemporary trombonist can escape Johnson’s shadow). His music has been solidly rooted in post-bop.
On his third album, Nowhere Without You
, Felten changes direction and embraces swing. It’s a strange move. Even stranger, Felten decides to recast himself as a Harry Connick style crooner. The results, sadly, are less than exciting.
Felten’s trombone is as strong as ever - when he plays - which isn’t often enough on this very brief (under forty minutes) disc. More time is given over to Felten’s bland vocals. He tries too hard to sing in a Sinatra-esque style, but lacks even a tenth of Sinatra’s trademark panache and interpretive ability. Felten simply sings the songs, pleasantly enough to be sure, but he adds nothing of substance. The one exception is Burt Bacharach’s "Wives and Lovers," which somehow suits Felten’s nearly expressionless style perfectly. Otherwise, the listener spends most of the disc wishing Felten would put his horn in front of his mouth, if only to stop him from singing.
If the disc has one saving grace it is the high quality of the instrumental performances. Chuck Redd, in particular, stands out on vibes. The music is so well played, in fact, that it almost makes Felten’s vocals worth sitting through. This disc might please pop listeners hungry for the next Michael Buble or Peter Cincotti, but it falls short as a jazz recording.