“Travelin’ Light” CD Review
by JOHN PATTEN
Jazz Improv Magazine – Summer 2007
You’ve probably heard Billy Valentine singing before, even if you didn’t know it — his resonant voice sings the theme song to the TV show Boston Legal, and he and his brother John had several albums released between 1979 and 1987 that yielded a couple of tunes on the pop charts. But if you haven’t, you’ll probably find his voice very pleasing — he sounds a bit like Al Jarreau without the improvisational flashes. Instead of this limiting his release, however, it’s a nice balance for a setting of 11 ballads.
Mr. Valentine is backed by a very solid trio of musicians who help him produce a fine CD. If you find yourself grasping for something to put on after listening to, say, Diana Krall to keep the mood going — try Travelin’ Light.
I found myself singing along with Mr. Valentine’s terrifically realized “Jitterbug Waltz,” an irresistable song made fresh with his vocal styling and Stuart Elster’s solo, which starts with some light single note flourishes but builds to a block chord finish.
About the only criticism one could have of this outing is that everyone seems to be playing a little too carefully. Nearly each track has a solid solo by Mr. Elster, one — “Travelin’ Light” — lets bassist Kevin Axt take a solo. The comping work is terrific and the solos solid, but I couldn’t help feeling these guys could do more and that I would like to hear that.
But then again, this is a package of ballads and dramatic changes in tempo or volume would spoil the mood that’s so carefully set. “Travelin’ Light,” “Jitterbug Waltz,” and “On the Street Where You Live” are slightly up-tempo, but not aggressively so.
Mr. Valentine has built a solid musical career starting in R&B and disco with his brother. He’s also written tunes that have been picked up by such acts as Mavis Staples, Simply Red and Ray Charles.
R&B is a kissing cousin to jazz, and it shows in Mr. Valentine’s phrasing and inflections. His pacing matches the musicians he’s recording with for a carefully thought-out visit to some songs that were so well written they still sound great when done right.
I hope Mr. Valentine will work on a follow-up to this, perhaps with some of his own tunes. It seems to be currently popular for pop singers to try their hands at jazz, but few have offered as decent a sound as Mr. Valentine’s and I hope a large audience finds him…again.