Pop-jazz. Jazz-pop. The labels are mere shorthand for a sort of music that’s tough to describe. The terms can often be applied in a pejorative sense, used to describe (and dismiss) disposable music. But that’s not at all what we have here. Mood Lit, the second album from Brooklyn pianist Jim Duffy, is a delight from start to finish.
The dozen tracks serve up sprightly melodies that swing. Duffy is aided and abetted by a small combo featuring The Smithereens‘ Dennis Diken on the trap kit, plus Paul Page on bass and Lance Doss on guitars (the latter two are also members of Ian Hunter’s band). The lineup is the same as on Duffy’s first release, 2005’s Side One. On Mood Lit, Duffy drives strong, snappy compositions via acoustic piano or a Wurlitzer 200A.
There are some production flourishes — such as a vibes, horns and glockenspiel — but Mood Lit is an incredibly organic disc. The songs sound as if they’re being played right in your living room. The melodies are strong enough that vocals aren’t missed; on the contrary, the arrangements would suffer if anything else were added. Note-perfect arrangements throughout make Mood Lit that unique disc that’s perfect as a backdrop to cocktails and entertaining and highly engaging enough to reward careful listening. Musical touchstones lean in a jazz-for-all-the-people direction: hints of Brubeck, Bacharach and Guaraldi are there, and there’s even a subtle nod to the Ides of March’s “Vehicle,” a 1970 Billboard pop hit. Another tune kicks off with an ambience that calls to mind Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” but heads immediately in another (equally pleasing) direction.
Sometimes instrumental albums suffer from repetition or a dearth of ideas. Mood Lit finishes as strong as it starts, and doesn’t sag in the middle either. Pointing out a highlight would only do disservice to the other eleven tracks. Highly recommended.
Jim Duffy: Press
Mood Lit reviews
From "Most Enjoyed of '09":
Jim Duffy: Mood Lit -- Look this one up. It's instrumental piano music with Dennis Diken on drums, and it has a sound that harkens back to when the future was something.
Jim -- Really good CD; every cut had SOMETHING. My favorites: "The Swerve," "After the Storm," "Balladeer" (good use of Claire), the title tune. But the one I really dug was "The Night Clerk." Congratulations! Love, Joel
It's rare that I'll review an instrumental album. But this one hit my sweet spot - and with Dennis Diken (Smithereens) on the drums, I figured it was worth looking into. Jim Duffy gathered a small jazz combo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to put this lounge pop confection together. Included are Paul Page (bass) and Lance Doss (guitars) from Ian Hunter's band. If you enjoy Burt Bacharach or The Vince Guaraldi Trio you will really love this album. The keyboards are where Jim shines on every track here. You'll hear a bit of a Stevie Wonder styled melody on the tribute "Stevie Says." Occasionally it takes a detour - "Memento Mori" is one of those songs where the horns take you on a journey, and you don't miss vocals one bit here. Every song tends to flow in a different direction, so unlike other jazz pop albums I've heard it doesn't get stylistically repetitive. Superior production and mixing work here balances out the players, so no one overshadows the other and the combo plays like a well oiled (organic) machine. Overall a very enjoyable album, and a big cut above your average instrumentals heard in Starbucks. So put down the coffee and enjoy a cocktail with Jim Duffy.
Jim Duffy, Mood Lit (Three Dots)
Duffy composes utterly charming pieces for the piano and organ. Duffy's pieces are instantly attractive, but the writing is sophisticated enough to attract exacting ears. Another fine album from a guy who knows how to make good music.
That bit about "twilight falling on kitchenettes" is totally true. Check out "Balladeer" for a super smooth, but very mobile number.
Soundtrack music for home furnishing shopping, detective dramas, and under-70 mph car chases. piano/keyboard-led concept pop. if nothing else, do your voice breaks with any of these tracks!
Side One reviews
Is anyone even making music like this anymore? Brooklyn keyboardist Jim Duffy seems to exist in a bygone era, at a time when the Brill Building still stands, when TV theme songs were AM radio hits, when Bacharach piano melodies were enough to sell records.
There's naïve joy in this collection of 11 original instrumentals as Duffy plays propulsive, groove-based piano underscored with his own catchy chord work on a Wurlitzer electric piano; he rounds out the sound with a studio full of instruments - lap steel, strings, brass and musical saw (on "Gentle Panic") - played by musicians happy to have the chance to show off their old-fashioned chops. Ray Charles is an influence ("Get Up for Ray"), and he and Booker T bang heads on the best cut, the last track, a six-and-a-half-minute jam called "Morning Rays," with everybody digging in and spreading the mirth.
Jim Duffy on piano and electric piano, backed up by a basic guitar-bass-drums band and all sorts of friends. Duffy does paint his songs differently, depending on the extras (horns, strings, etc.) - or maybe he calls in his pals to flesh out his songs the way he wants them to sound.
Either way, Duffy is essentially an R&B piano player, with touches of boogie-woogie and other styles seamlessly tossed in. His songs simply roll out with consummate ease, immediately charming the ear and inducing the mind to relax. Take a load off. Enjoy yourself.
And as these songs stroll through classic soul, the blues, rock, jazz and more, the one connecting factor is Duffy's stylish feel for the keyboard. He plays the electric piano on most of these songs, and he manages to exude real emotion and feeling on an instrument that can make that quite difficult.
Just a lovely feel to this album. It cycles through plenty of moods, but the prevailing wind is that of a warm spring breeze. Effervescent, with the promise of better days to come. And the ideas to back up that optimism. Truly a joy.
I love this totally instrumental disc. Go to CD Baby and get it right away. Jim Duffy is channeling Bacharach, early Chicago and Peanuts, as in the cartoon. There isn't a loop to be found, but it is loaded with strings, horns, piano, wurlitzer, guitars, lap steel and even a glockenspiel. It is buzzing from the heart and soul of real live musicians, and some notable ones to boot: Dennis Diken of the Smithereens on drums, Paul Page on bass and Lance Doss on guitar/lap steel, (both from John Cale's band), provide a fantastic backbone of a rhythm section for Duffy's well orchestrated arrangements. Jim Duffy handles the piano/Wurlitzer himself. These guys must have had a blast laying these tracks down. I wish I had been in the room.
I also love the way it's recorded. Sometimes when I listen to CDs, my ears get fatigued by the pure digital-ness of the recording. "Side One" was recorded and mixed by Greg Duffin at Cowboy Technical Services of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, run by studio stars Eric Ambel and Tim Hatfield on mostly vintage gear. No fatigue can possibly come from these old school recordings.
This is one whimsical, joyous and refreshing cd. Although it is reminiscent of yesteryear, it is so different from much of what we hear these days. I'll call it the new old school. I hope it's on the way back and gets big.
Keyboardist Jim Duffy tickles the ivories for the band Martin's Folly; he's also played with Wanda Jackson, the Bottle Rockets, Eric Ambel and others. "Side One," however, is no roots rock supersession, but a lively collection of instrumentals.
Duffy entices a plethora of appealing melodies from his pianos, arranged in a variety of moods. "The Crawler" sounds like the backing track of a long-lost Al Green session at Hi, while "Mother of Pearl" acknowledges country piano pioneer Floyd Cramer. Add poetic lyrics to "Your White Raincoat" and you'd think you stumbled onto a Jimmy Webb outtake; crank up "Morning Rays" and everybody in a 20-foot-radius will twist and frug the day away. "Knowing What You Want" and "A.M. Fun City" would do Burt Bacharach proud.
Duffy's sharply tasteful playing and understated support team (including Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken and members of John Cale's band) keep the music tightly held to the melodies-no self-indulgent soloing here. As a resume of what Duffy can do, "Side One" is impressive. As an album in and of itself, it's a winner.
There isn't a lot of non-jazz piano-based instrumental music out there -- or at least there hasn't been for a few decades. It should be no surprise, then, that a contemporary piano-based instrumental CD like "Side One" would sound like a time capsule from '60s London. Whether Jim Duffy considers his songs to be retro blasts or contemporary pieces is a moot point, really; either way you take them, it's more fun than you've had since you watched Snoopy dance to "Linus and Lucy."
Duffy splits his time pretty evenly between a classic piano and an electric Wurlizter. The Wurly tunes achieve a buzzy lounge bliss reminiscent of Miles Davis's R&B outings. "Get Up for Ray" doesn't have an ounce of the psychedelia from Bitches' Brew, but the unmistakable tones from the organ and horns make it tough not to make the comparisons. "The Crawler" is another sharp Wurlitzer song, this one sounding uncannily like the music from that "How a Bill Becomes a Law" cartoon from your grade school. The trumpet arrangements alone are worth the list price.
It might be impossible to listen to the finger-snapping bliss of "A.M. Fun City" without at least cracking a smile. Unlike jazz, these sounds are all straight up and down, without improv or any sense of the player's personality. It's all trumpet, piano, hi-hat and tight pants in here. Despite that rigidity -- or perhaps because of it -- this song has the ability to break down the most cynical listener.
I can imagine this album catching on with the hipsters. Chill-out's over, everybody does jazz, and the R&B grooves just aren't cutting it for the parties any more. Only problem is, there's nothing to play after this. Jim Duffy's debut album, "Side One," sounds unlike anything around today.
It's roughly old AM radio, except that stuff like this music wasn't on then either; on this album nostalgia becomes incarnate in an aural reflection of a nonexistent past. Forget Burt Bacharach, the closest (and probably most frequently made) comparison you'll find is to Vince Guaraldi (of "Linus and Lucy" fame). It's not jazz, it's not pop, but it's somewhere in that region. The 11 tracks Duffy presents are fun and mostly sunny; that's about it, and it's probably enough.
After years backing music legends like Wanda Jackson, Freddie Cannon, Eric Ambel and others, Brooklyn-based keyboardist Jim Duffy released his own CD "Side One" in 2004. Backed by some truly great players including Dennis Diken (from Smithereens on drums), Lance Doss (guitarist from John Cale's band) and the strings of the Flux String Quartet, Duffy channels the spirits of Burt Bacharach and late, great piano man Vince Guaraldi on a short but sweet CD that would make a great soundtrack to a "Peanuts" cartoon.
The 11-track instrumental CD makes a splendid argument for the wonders of the 88-key piano, a noble, vintage instrument that's just about been forgotten in this age of high-tech wizardry. From Ray Charles-style grooves to '60s retro and soundtrack sounds, "Side One" is a joy from start to finish.
I don't normally review instrumental piano music, but this was a pretty fun CD from Jim Duffy. Entitled Side One (ah, yes, harken back to those times when there were two sides to albums), it is a mishmash of mostly energetic instrumental tunes that borrow from the last 50 years of American pop. Indeed, that was the stated concept, and Duffy sure does it well.
Again, I don't know much about the genre, but it's hard to not like the "Peanuts"-influenced tracks like "Get Up For Ray" and "For Those Who Are Leaving". Duffy has wisely assembled a barnload of competent "real" musicians (including luminaries like Dennis Diken of the Smithereens and Paul Page and Lance Doss, who play with John Cale) that really fill out the tracks well.
For me, I was rather partial to the "slower" tracks like the somewhat creepy "Gentle Panic" that is bathed in tingling Wurlitzer and hissing jazzy drums. The mellow '50s "slow dance" tune "Sob Story" was sort of fun as well.
This ain't no Ben Folds Five, and perhaps all for the better, because I found myself sort of relaxing in the absence of vocals. Sharp contrast to the punk albums we get, but a sort of nice change for today.