Monday, May 4, 2009

"Blue," by Double

The sub-genre of smooth jazz hit new commercial peaks in the early 1980’s. A momentum fueled, no doubt, by 1970’s crossover artists like George Benson, Patti Austin, and Al Jarreau. Not only did smooth jazz proliferate to the point of newly established radio stations for the style, but smooth jazz artists also became regular fixtures on the pop charts in the early to mid 1980’s. Some of these artists established themselves widely and held an enduring shelf life in the pop world, like Sade (“Smooth Operator”) and Simply Red (“Holding Back the Years”), while others either quickly faded back to jazz-only stations, like Anita Baker ("Sweet Love") and Kenny G (Hmm, don't remember any of his songs), or disappeared entirely. Double is in the last category.

Mistakenly dubbed “a quartet” in the People Magazine review (due to the clever album cover pictured above, where the duo appears twice: get it? “Double?”), Double was actually a Swiss duo, consisting of vocalist and lead guitar player, Kurt Maloo, and Felix Haug on drums and keyboards. I first heard the duo’s top-20 hit, “Captain Of Her Heart,” in my freshman year of high school: it sounded so sophisticated and jet-set cool. In fact, there was nothing to not like about this classic single. Culled from this 1985 debut album, the song’s distinctive piano riff, melancholy lyric, and the casual, off-the-cuff vocal style of Kurt Maloo fit right in with the contemporary jazz/pop of that time, and it’s an enchanting little song - one of the most memorable of the era.

The remaining album is a surprising combination of 80’s synthesizers, light techno beats, jazz, and pop that still holds up remarkably well, over 20 years later. Although the up-tempo songs retain their mid-80’s appeal, the enduring strength of Blue is found in the slower, jazzier songs, like “Rangoon Moon,” and “Tomorrow,” which closes the album. “Tomorrow’s” clicky, shuffle-along drumbeat, lilting tenor saxophone, and meandering, lighter-than-air chorus floats out of your speakers like ether – a perfect finale for this tragically under-valued and long-forgotten album of the 80’s.

The follow-up single from the album, “Woman Of The World” sounded just as urbane and mysterious as “Captain,” and I love it to this day, but it just didn’t catch on. A stilted second album, Dou3le, followed two years later, but by then, everyone was walking like Egyptians, fighting for their rights to party, or freaking out about Michael Jackson’s so-so new album (Bad) with little patience for sifting through the duo’s often difficult and techno-heavy follow-up. After their follow-up effort failed, Double was dropped from their record label and spent the 90’s pursuing solo careers with little success. In 2004, Haug died of a heart attack, and in 2009, Maloo released a solo album, Summer Of Better Times, similar in style to Blue, just released in the U.S. in the summer of 2013.

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