Album Review: Leslie Odom Jr – Leslie Odom Jr (2016)


“Who can say what dreams are?”

Leslie Odom Jr first released his self-titled debut album in 2014 but he opted to re-release it in June 2016 switching out three of the tracks for four new ones – quite why he didn’t just record a new album I’m not sure, but there you have it. It was certainly well-timed in any case, coming hard on Odom’s victory in the Best Actor in a Musical Tony award category for his iconic role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton

Perhaps deliberately, 10-track album Leslie Odom Jr eschews Lin-Manuel Miranda’s striking musical masterpiece to instead mark out Odom’s own territory as a performer. Thus the collection flows with a contemporary jazz feel that is ideally suited to the warm cadences and tender elasticity of his vocal, which is pretty much joyous throughout, feeling as it does, as if it is on the precipice of seducing you (just wait ‘til you hear him croon in Portuguese…).

The album’s highlight is an incandescent take on Vincent Youmans’ ‘I Know That You Know’ from Hit the Deck, driving chords underscoring an arrangement that flirts with both R’n’B and jazz and yet would feel right at home on Radio 1 right now, the fierce outro from jazz pianist ELEW is just magnificent. Elsewhere, the gently relaxed but still pacey stroll through ‘Autumn Leaves’ is another stand out moment. 

What’s most impressive across the whole collection though is how the effective the jazz treatment is – nothing feels too forced, but when you’re talking of the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein (Flower Drum Song’s ‘Love Look Away’), Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening’s The Guilty Ones’), and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (Willy Wonka’s ‘Cheer Up Charlie’), it’s no mean feat to remain respectful while reimagining so thoroughly.

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