Jeff Goldblum Takes a Seat at the Piano for ‘The Capitol Studio Sessions’
Jeff Goldblum made a name for himself with his roles in such film as “The Fly” and “Jurassic Park.” He’s been in Apple commercials, and shows up, in some form or another, in every Wes Anderson movie. With a history of being cast as quirky characters, he has grown into something of a cult figure, inspiring countless nonsensical memes, as well as a giant statue of his likeness in London. Goldblum is also a jazz pianist who has played clubs since a teenager, and has long had a weekly revue residency at L.A.’s Rockwell Table and Stage with his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Now, Goldblum has tried his hand, for first time, at recording an album. He went to Capitol Studios, and attempted to recreate the atmosphere and experience of his regular variety show. The result is “The Capitol Studio Sessions,” a live recording of Goldblum and the band playing a set of various jazz standards. As a pianist, Goldblum takes a seat at the baby grand, and modestly blends into the greater group’s composite sound. However, he’s also a host, of sorts. He steps into the role of lounge singer, and serves as master of ceremonies, occasionally delving into comic routines. His debut album with the band is a delightfully camp affair — a solid set of songs, and one-of-a-kind act overall.
Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra start off their set with the Herbie Hancock standard “Cantaloupe Island.” Hancock wrote the music to sound more like improvisation than rigid composition, so as to fit the modest ensemble of trumpet and rhythm section. The funky, free-flowing stylings immediately set the tone for the event, creating a loose, loungey environment of effortless cool. The band runs through the choruses, and the players solo one by one, riffing off one another with masterful fluency. Next is “Don’t Mess With Mister T,” a spacious number with a distinctly seventies breeziness to it. Trumpeter Till Brönner takes the spotlight, shuttling freely through fanciful figures with a sensitivity to tone that makes for some exceptionally expressive playing. Singer Haley Reinhart joins the band for a rendition of “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” popularized by Nina Simone. Goldblum and Reinhart exchange flirty acknowledgements, drawing applause from the crowd, and Reinhart assumes the role of chanteuse, singing coyly, and letting out a little laugh between words here and there, establishing an affable stage presence. Her fluid, effervescent vocal delivery adds a new intimacy to the music, and you are suddenly drawn headlong into a speakeasy or old school dinner-and-a-show venue. There’s a half-spoken, half-sung back-and-forth of some silly banter between Reinhart and Goldblum that imbues the music with a winsome, playful feel.
Irish singer Imelda May steps up to the mic for a take on Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” She sounds cool and sassy, and her voice effectively anchors the nostalgic effect of the throwback musical stylings. Comedian Sarah Silverman appears, and starts a dialogue with Goldblum, very much in her characteristic quirky, irreverent humor. At one point, Goldblum tells her she looks “like the most beautiful Amy Winehouse.” The two join forces for the duet “Me and My Shadow,” a popular song from the twenties, with a cute, affectionate interplay between male and female singers. They update the lyrics for the present time, incorporating allusions to Al Gore, the Godfather, and Goldblum’s own “Jurassic Park,” at which point Goldblum puts on his best velociraptor impression. Silverman’s shrill, nasal voice and shabby singing, although not conventionally pleasing to the ear, impart a decidedly comedic tone. In the end, it’s all entertainment.
The band tackles Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square,” delving deep into the blues, and getting particularly soulful. The show tune “It Never Entered My Mind,” famously recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra, makes for a reflective moment, with Brönner blowing away at the top of his game. Reinhart returns for “Gee Baby (Ain’t I Good To You,)” On which her singing is soft and sultry, but occasionally subject to spells of passion that reveal themselves in a raspy howl. There’s a festive performance of civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew (How It Could Feel To Be Free,)” after which May reappears for a rendition of “This Bitter Earth,” made famous by Dinah Washington. It’s a stripped-down, sentimental number that showcases May’s flair and extraordinary command of dynamics. She goes on to sing “Come On-A-My House,” a quirky, suggestive song that she brings to life with all her personality. Brönner takes center stage again for Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” which culminates in a torrent of blasting brass. Following this climax, “Good Night” cuts straight to the band in full swing. As they jam away, Goldblum gives shout outs to the musicians, one by one, praising them effusively with a lounge singer’s debonair nonchalance. As the volume fades out, you can hear him saying, in a matter-of-fact way, “This is the best night I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
There is neither anything particularly exceptional about his set of songs nor any conspicuous cause for complaint. The musicianship is consistently consummate, and the selection of standards spans disparate styles of jazz, all of which are adeptly undertaken with plenty inspiration and verve. Moreover, you can sense that the band is enjoying itself all the while. It’s a bit of lighthearted, frivolous fun, and an engaging, enjoyable listen. Formated to capture an intimate live performance, the album creates a quaint cabaret setting, and sets you up in a seat right by the stage. The entire show — the setlist of standards, the stage personalities, the frothy humor — is outlandishly anachronistic, which accounts for much of its unique appeal. Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra simulate an experience from an earlier era. “The Capitol Studio Sessions” can be taken as a one-act production — a fitting undertaking for an artist with a dramatic bent. As you might expect, Goldblum puts on the performance with all of his characteristic quirkiness and charm.
“The Capitol Studio Sessions” is available Nov. 9 on Apple Music.