The Lowdown: In most cases, the celebrity record is a grandiose exercise in self-indulgence for people who have too much money and too much freedom and too few friends around to tell them no. (Bruce, you were great on Moonlighting, but there is not one person on earth who wants to hear your rendition of “Secret Agent Man”.) The celebrity album may be the only thing keeping movie stars from hunting humans for sport, which is the only reason I can think that we, as a society, keep allowing it to happen.
But Jeff Goldblum, ah, yes, Jeff, — and his trusty Mildred Snitzer Orchestra — transcend all of that once again on I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, an immensely pleasurable follow-up to The Capitol Studio Sessions. Goldblum is legitimate, a 30-year veteran of the ivories who’s had a standing gig at LA’s Rockwell Table and Stage for the last half-decade. A less confident player might have used his star status to force his way to the front, but Goldblum recognizes that jazz is not about the spotlight; it’s about the interplay of the band as a whole.
The Good: Instrumentals like “Driftin’” and “The Cat” give the band their best chances to really swing wild, with Joe Bagg stealing the show on the Hammond organ. British singer-songwriter Anna Calvi joins him to ground the ’70s slickness of a mash-up of Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six” and Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English” into something throaty and urgent. Similarly, Sharon Van Etten’s stunning contribution to the album’s opener, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, meets at the exact fulcrum of doom and devil-may-care.
The Bad: The album’s weakest spot is the often-problematic Miley Cyrus, who does no favors to “The Thrill Is Gone”. What should be achingly tender and lonely sounds instead like a karaoke version of jazz by a sorority girl who can barely spell the word. It’s a shame because behind her is one of the album’s most vibrant performances, simultaneously bold and vulnerable, the theme of someone who is on a post-breakup bender and loudly proclaiming that “this is the year of me” with sobs just a sip of a drink away. It’s a track that would have been better left to one of the album’s other guests; I cannot help but think that Fiona Apple would have killed it, the way she kills it on “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”. Her phrasing is remarkable, with a stunning illusion of ease that turns the heartbreak she is translating into something you want to play over and over.
The Verdict: Goldblum does get his moment to shine, closing out the album singing “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”. He’s not Chet Baker, but he doesn’t have to be; his vocal stylings are gentle and paternal in the warmest, sweetest way, a heartwarming lullaby for the adults left at the party.
Perhaps the most important part of I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This is its ease of accessibility. It’s jazz for enjoyment by people with an encyclopedic knowledge of players right alongside someone who might have gone through life until now believing that jazz was something you only heard in elevators. You can put it on during a fancy dinner, and it won’t bore anyone; you can sit down and analyze it note by note and discover new pleasures with every listen. And it is pleasurable, a smooth, slow crawl that you feel across your skin, taste on your tongue, and roll around in your mouth.
The Capitol Studio Sessions could have very easily been a one-off vanity project, but with I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, Goldblum once again proves that the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra is one more way he can charm us all.
Essential Tracks: “Don’t Worry ‘bout Me”, “The Cat”, and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”