Album Reviews

Andrew Bird Trio – Sunday Morning Put-On

(Loma Vista) UK release date: 24 May 2024

A perfect soundtrack for a Sunday morning coffee and contemplation session as the indie-folkster explores the Great American Songbook

Andrew Bird Trio - Sunday Morning Put-On Anyone who’s only ever known Andrew Bird as the indie-folk musician who’s a dab hand at the violin, whistling and loop pedals may be a bit taken back by Sunday Morning Put-On. The violin is still present, but Bird has returned to his jazz roots for this album, teaming up with Alan Hampton and Ted Poor to explore the Great American Songbook.

Sunday Morning Put-On takes various classic old songs and performs them in a jazz style, with Bird’s violin standing in for the woodwind of the original performances. There are tracks written by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Lerner/Loewe, with just one original composition, Ballon de peut-être, an instrumental which closes the album.

It is, of course, beautifully played. Bird is a master at whatever instrument he picks up, and to hear his violin improvise its way through Ellington’s Caravan can be spine-tingling. The trio’s rendition of Billie Holiday‘s I Cover The Waterfront is beautifully dramatic, with Poor’s gently brushed drums providing a framework for Bird’s vocals – thankfully, he never tries to imitate Holiday, and it’s the sort of song you can sit back and imagine listing to in some late-night dive bar in New York or Chicago.

I Fall In Love Too Easily is another song that jazz fans will recognise – originally written for Frank Sinatra in the film Anchors Aweigh, possibly the best known version is by Chet Baker, and its Baker’s sense of poignancy and vulnerability that Bird beautifully harnesses here. It feels yearning and melancholic, in the way that the best sort of vocal jazz can do.

One problem with recording an album of well-known standards is bringing something new to the party. While there are no major surprises on Sunday Morning Put-On – songs like I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face and Rodgers & Hart‘s I Didn’t Know What Time It Was are wisely tackled as straight cover versions – Bird’s use of violin adds a new, even more mournful dimension to tracks like Django, and it’s all performed so tastefully that even jazz purists will struggle to be offended.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work quite so well. At the start of Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, Bird’s vocals are so far back in the mix that it becomes quite distracting, even though that’s resolved within a minute, while the closing original composition Ballon de peut-etre is nine minutes long and feels every second of that – the fact that it follows lots of songs that most people will be very familiar means that it’s a slightly jarring end to the record.

It’s also a bit too pleasant sometimes – its never bland, but you can’t help thinking about some of Bird’s previous albums which were more emotionally engaging. There’s certainly nothing as immediately compelling as his collaboration with Fiona Apple, Left Handed Kisses. However, if you’re in the mood for a Sunday morning coffee and contemplation session, this is a perfect soundtrack.

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