April 23, 2019. South Jersey’s Paul Jost had a long career as an instrumentalist before debuting as a vocalist with 2014’s aptly named Breaking Through. In the newly released follow-up to that debut, Simple Life, Jost shows that he’s blown way past “getting the hang of this singing thing” on his way to positively reveling in it.
Simple Life opens with the excitement of a leadoff moonshot, covering the oft-covered, probably over-covered, “Blackbird,” in a rarely heard up-tempo that re-enlivens the classic McCartney/Lennon tune. Dean Johnson’s bassline is a galvanizing force, while the playful dynamic between pianist Jim Ridl and vibraphonist Joe Locke lends the tune an endearing air of mischief—as though the quartet feels thrillingly complicit in taking “Blackbird” so far out of its usual neighborhood.
The theme of quartet as transformative force continues with a highly impressionistic adaptation of Everybody’s Talkin.’ It opens by musically-quoting Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” with Jost loosely scatting the iconic opening horn riffs. The choice of homage here is no coincidence—in fact, the way Jost has chosen to present the entire song is a reference to fellow jazz vocalist Mark Murphy’s Alzheimer’s misdiagnosis and the confusion and distress that no doubt plagued Murphy thereafter.
If you’re looking for a version of this tune that stays faithful to the one made famous by Harry Nilsson on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack, look elsewhere—the song’s lyrics are clearly more aligned with Jost’s purpose here than the original musical arrangement. However, there are strains of the original’s catchy melody that shine through sporadically, like small islands of lucidity in an otherwise very large sea of tumult and disorientation.
Jost then circles back to the conventional, with a straight-ahead version of Give Me the Simple Life that will no doubt satisfy the Tony Bennett fans out there. The chronic whistler might also enjoy the end of this one, as Jost lighthearedly reproduces the opening to the Andy Griffith Show through his own pursed lips.
Shuffle the rest of the way through Simple Life and you’ll come across covers of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” and Sonny Rollins’s “No Moe.” But, for my money, the rhythm section, comprised of Ridl, Johnson, Locke on vibes, and Tim Horner on drums, cooks at its best on the adventurous yet accessible version of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, with Jost soulfully scatting the lines of a lead instrumentalist throughout.