Kevin Mahogany: Pride and Joy

Michael Stone

Kevin Mahogany

Pride and Joy

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2002-05-28
UK Release Date: 2002-06-24

Before Kevin Mahogany emerged in the mid-1990s, male jazz singers had become a nearly extinct species, with no heir apparent to the giants: Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Hibbler, Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Johnny Hartmann, Nat King Cole, Jon Hendricks. Kansas City native Mahogany studied piano, sax and clarinet in high school, but only started singing in college, after which he worked with an array of soul, R&B and jazz groups through the '80s. Then a trio of early '90s releases on Enja (the innovative German label that brought Keith Jarrett to wider audiences) revealed Mahogany as a fully realized jazz vocalist.

While Mahogany's prior work has drawn upon Percy Mayfield, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder, on Pride and Joy he plunges to the heart and soul of the Motown sound, imaginatively reworking perpetual contributions by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Wonder, and Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Mahogany explains his rationale this way: "Now the time has come to combine my musical loves, the unique harmonies of jazz with the lyricism of Motown. This isn't a new concept, not at all. . . . Combining jazz and Motown music seems natural to me. I grew up loving both styles and . . . I hope to be able to continue the tradition of jazz with creative music that can challenge the artist as well as entertain."

Jazz artists have a history of taking popular music to higher ground. Think of Dizzy Gillespie's "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac", Rahsaan Roland Kirk's hijacking of the Burt Bachrach songbook, or Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" -- to cite just a few examples. But unlike bebop, say, Mahogany's intention is not to render the familiar astonishingly new, so much as to bring Motown's expressiveness into the jazz repertoire.

A regard for his source is evident from the get-go, as Mahogany turns Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" into a remarkable, scatting a cappella doo-wop rendering, with finger-popping harmonic backing by tenors Gregory Clark and Todd Johnson, baritone Gerald Trottman and bass Peter Eldridge. The same dazzling vocal combo weaves its expressive harmonies through The Four Tops' "Reach Out, I'll Be There".

Trumpeter Jon Faddis, guitarist Dave Stryker and pianist James Weidman leap in with a muted, hard-bop take on the title track, a Marvin Gaye standard, against which Mahogany, with pipes to spare, blows a bluesy, growling, masterfully scatted counterpoint -- Ella and Louis must be smiling somewhere back of beyond. Stryker's guitar pays tribute to George Benson on the Barrett Strong-Norman Whitfield plaint, "I Can't Get Next to You", in which Mahogany lays a pensive jazz spin on source renditions by the Temptations and Al Green.

Against the evocative hand percussion of Alias, Mahogany explores the smoky Latin clave concealed within the Jackson Five's "Never Can Say Goodbye", conjured up in a Stryker arrangement dappled with a fluid guitar, Weidman's cabaret piano and Mahogany's scatted chorus. Betty Carter's reigning spirit moves through Mahogany's conjuring of the unsettling cast of Smokey Robinson's "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game".

Mahogany and Stryker (this time on acoustic guitar) craft a subtle duet on "The Tears of a Clown", a minimalist construal of Stevie Wonder's confession of love-wounded pride. Both here and on the Supremes' "My World Is Empty Without You" (backed only by bassist Melissa Slocum and percussionist Don Alias), Mahogany's stripped-down acoustic approach resonates with the impressionistic vocal signature of Cassandra Wilson. Equally reflective, albeit with a fuller instrumental foundation, is Mahogany's conscription -- as jazz ballads -- of Motown standards "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)", "She's Out of My Life", and a bittersweet "Just My Imagination", the album-closing Temptations tribute.

Throughout his stylish reframing of the Motown legacy, Mahogany's silky smooth baritone, subtle arrangement, and a finely attuned ear for supporting talent testify to his unchallenged status as today's foremost working male jazz vocalist. Mahogany's is an expressive artistry whose extraordinary vintage has come of age.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.