Working with musicians including reeds player Tommy Smith (whose last album, Bluesmith I reviewed for PopMatters), Hue & Cry have attempted to make a Sinatra record for the next millennium—but came up with Sammy Davis, Jr., I do not say that to dismiss Hue & Cry, and certainly not Davis. There is much to admire in this album’s performances, just as there was much to admire in Davis as a performer and as a man. But he would have been the first to tell you he wasn’t at the same level as his idol, Sinatra, and this album doesn’t achieve the heights it wants to either. Davis always said some of the best advice Sinatra ever gave him was that he must sound like himself, not try to imitate Sinatra or any other singer. This album is the sound of boys busy in the mirrors, trying to imitate their heroes. Put another way, Sinatra sang “In the wee small hours of the morning.” He didn’t sing “Wish you’d told me your pain, your pain, pretty baby.” He sang “It was a very good year,” not “Don’t you see I’m as tired as a dog in a pussy farm, where pussy don’t come to harm.” Of course, Sinatra wrote almost none of his own material, in the days before being “only” a singer meant a loss of “critical credibility.”
Hue & Cry have flexed their muscles with the odd cover version over the years. Their recording of the Beatles “Fixing a Hole,” done for a charity album, has always struck me as one of the best covers ever done, even outstripping the original. On Next Move they blow through Prince’s “Sign ‘o’ the Times” and after several listens I still can’t decide if I think it’s horrible or not. Certainly, it sacrifices a lot of the stark, percussive, gripping qualities of the original. Yet it’s long been a maxim of mine that if you’re going to cover a song, cover a song-and you have a moral obligation to piss off fans of the original. Otherwise, why do it if you’re going to do it note-for-note?
The brothers Kane, who are Hue & Cry, are lifelong jazz fans who grew up to be “blue-eyed soul” stars in the UK in the late ‘80s, though the US generally turned them away with a polite “no, thank you.” Pat Kane’s voice, though it has grown smoother over the years, has paradoxically lost both the breeziness of “Fixing a Hole,” and the rougher edge of early material like “I Refuse.”
On their last record, Jazz Not Jazz, the two fully indulged their love of that music (it says on their web site). It was apparently the first part of a trilogy, and Next Move is just that. If Jazz Not Jazz was designed to bring their pop fans to jazz, Next Move is designed to bring their jazz fans to pop.
Musically, Greg Kane’s moody piano is strong throughout, especially on the songs that bookend the album, “She Moves Through the Wires” and “Pawn of the Weekend.” Smith’s sax informs the cover of Harry Connick, Jr’s “Sonny Cried” with a sound that is both pitying and mockery. Drummer Ian Thomas and especially bass player Laurence Cottle are generally less featured, but each have their moments, Cottle contributing some nice bass bends to the title song and Thomas a quietly supernatural percussion intro to “24/7.”
So what is this music? R&B/jazz? Pop/jazz? Stadium jazz? Latin/funk/jazz? Hyper jazz? Jungle/drum & bass/jazz? Hue & Cry encourages these questions, but one suspects they’d like to know the answers themselves. And if they ever figure it out, their next move should be quite rewarding.