Weekes’ ”Round Midnight’ Compilation Re-Issue Mostly Succeeds

Courtesy: Amber Inn Records

Jazz vocalist Amber Weekes is scheduled to re-issue her 2002 album ‘Round Midnight again Friday.  Originally released in 2002 as a promotional presentation for clubs and festivals, the 12-song album was re-issued in 2007 through Sunset Records according to information provided through AllMusic.  The compilation’s forthcoming re-issue is an intriguing presentation, especially among the year’s current field of re-issues.  While the recording has added the word “Re-Imagined” to its title, the only new aspect here from its previous releases is its production, making for a bit of a concern.  While this concern is unavoidable, the album is not a total failure.  The songs that make up the compilation’s body and the way in which Weekes’ uses them makes for at least some interest.  This will be discussed shortly.  Weekes’ performance of said songs is also of note.  It will also be examined later.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the record.  All things considered, ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined proves itself a presentation that will appeal to audiences who do not already own ‘Round Midnight.

Amber Weekes’ forthcoming re-issue of her album ‘Round Midnight is a presentation that will find appeal among a targeted audience base.  Its appeal among those audiences comes primarily through the songs that make up the compilation’s body.  According to information featured in the record’s liner notes, the songs are meant to help tell a “story” of sorts.  The story in question is not some concept piece per se.  Rather, it is that of life in the Sugar Hill region of Harlem centralized in Weekes’ Luncheonette, a real business that was owned and operated by Weekes’ grandparents.  The notes, penned by San Francisco Chronicle writer Andrew Gilbert, point out that famed figures, such as actor Sidney Poitier, jazz pianist/composer Due Ellington, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins patronized the business.  He notes in his writing that the songs (E.g. Johnny Mercer’s ‘One For My Baby,’ MarcosValle’s ‘Summer Samba,’ Cole Porter’s ‘Lovers’) are meant to tell the story passed down to her by her family.  The songs are meant to set the mood while also telling the story of life in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem.  The approach is not unique per se.  However, that the songs are used to tell a story, requiring listeners to use their imagination so as to see the story in their own minds is a positive approach.  Add in the fact that not all of the songs covered in this compilation are the run-of-the-mill standards, but rather some lesser-known songs (and lesser-known artists) and the songs prove even more important to the compilation.  That and the manner in which the songs are used makes for even more appeal here.  Keeping all of this in mind, the musical selections featured in ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined are in themselves reason enough for the noted targeted audiences to hear this covers set.

There is no denying that the songs (and artists) featured in ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined form a solid foundation for this re-issue.  At the same time, they are the same songs and artists featured in the record’s initial 202 promotional release and its 2007 Sunset Records re-issue.  The only “new” aspect of this latest presentation of ‘Round Midnight is the production, which also includes some newly added string arrangements here and there.  That work paid off, too and should not be ignored.  Where added, the string arrangements add an appealing touch to those works.  The problem here is the use of the word “Re-Imagined.”  The addition of the strings to some of the songs and the re-mastering are the only aspects that really make the record “re-imagined.”  What’s more, the liner notes do not point out which of the songs feature the added strings.  That means that audiences who are unfamiliar with the original works will not even know which songs to compare.   There are no extra covers or even original works featured here.  Keeping all of this in mind, the simple use of the term “re-imagined” proves somewhat misrepresentative.  It creates in listeners’ minds, an expectation of something noticeably different from the compilation’s initial release and any other re-issues.  In reality, what audiences get is a minimally “re-imagined” collection of covers at best.  Luckily, the concerns raised through this marketing shortfall are not enough to doom the recording.  It is just a matter that one cannot ignore and does detract from the compilation’s appeal.  Now keeping this in mind, it is the compilation’s only negative.  Weekes’ performances of the record’s featured songs works with the songs and how they are used to make the record’s presentation more appealing.

Weekes’ performances of the songs featured in ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined makes for its own share of appeal for the compilation.  Her performance of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s ‘My Romance’ for instance is very much a different take from the original.  The piano and sax featured in the original are replaced by a mix of late 80s/early 90s R&B what with the pairing of Weekes’ vocals and the keyboard, and a string arrangement.  The whole at times makes the arrangement sound like it belongs in the soundtrack to Paramount Pictures’ 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Now some might try to argue that this plays into the “re-imagined” label, and maybe so, but again, it was also a re-imagining of the original in the compilation’s previous releases.  So that negates that argument.  That aside it is still an impressive performance, regardless. 

Weeke’s performance of Sting’s ‘Sister Moon’ and George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is another example of the importance of her performances here.  In the case of these two songs, Weekes performances (and those of her fellow musicians) is a relatively close to the originals.  Just as interesting is the closeness in sound and style between Sting’s work and that of George and Ira Gershwin.  The two songs actually do sound like they belong together, so it makes sense that Weekes would join them in this presentation.  When the performances of these two songs, that of ‘My Romance’ and those of the compilation’s other songs are all considered together, they collectively show a real devotion on the part of Weekes and company to pay tribute to the songs’ source material while also giving listeners something at least somewhat unique.  That clear attempt to balance new and old ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment in itself.  The appeal that this insures along with that generated through the songs and the manner in which they are used here gives audiences plenty of reason to hear this unique covers collection.

Amber Weekes’ forthcoming re-issue of her covers compilation, ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined is an intriguing addition to this year’s field of new re-issues and covers records.  That is due in part to the songs featured in the record and how they are used.  The songs are a mix of well- and lesser-known works as are the artists who crafted the works.  Weekes uses the songs to tell a story that is original and real.  It is not a concept story.  That is unique in itself and makes for reason enough in itself to hear this record.  While the songs and their use makes a strong foundation for its presentation, the fact that the changes between the original record and this latest re-issue detracts from the presentation.  That is due to the mis-use of the word “re-imagined.”  The only re-imagining between the original record and this re-issue is the addition of some string arrangements and re-mastering.  Even more, one has to wonder if the “re-imagining” done here was also done in the album’s 2007 re-issue.  That wonder detracts from the record’s appeal even more.  Even with the concerns that are raised through the record’s marketing here, they are not enough to make the record a failure.  The performances presented by Weekes and her fellow musicians work with the songs to make for even more appeal.  That is because they show a valid (and successful) attempt to balance honoring each song’s source material with giving audiences something unique.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation.  All things considered, they make the record a presentation that will appeal primarily to fans of Weekes who do not already own the set in its previous iterations.  ‘Round Midnight Re-Imagined is scheduled for release Friday through Amber Inn Records.  More information on the compilation is available along with all of Weekes’ latest news at:

Website: https://amberweekes.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amberweekkes4jazz

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amberweekes4jaz

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