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CD Review: Such is Life 

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There is no such thing as "natural" singing, only those affectations that come more naturally than the others. On some profound level, everybody is faking everything. Keep this in mind when you are tempted to consider a bearded folky more "real" than a diva, and when you encounter vocal jazz. No genre is more ridiculed for its pretensions and its passé associations: swanky sophistication and all the laughs of the lounge. On Such is Life, the drummer Eric Starr (who composes the songs sung by his brother, Nelson) does not demur these vocal jazz stereotypes; he embraces them, from the melancholic philosophical ruminations of the title track—"Such is Life, such complex schemes and such simple dreams"—to the back-cover image of a sweaty cocktail next to a drum stick.

Starr has the arranging chops to carry off an album of exquisite, wide-ranging chamber jazz, veering from the swing of "Can Spring Be Far Behind" into the bossa nova of "Dream Me Part I," the half-time funky rock of "Dream Me Part II," and the urban cacophony of "Commotion." Once you are inured to his jazz manners, Nelson Starr turns out to be an elegant, clean, low-cheese singer (and a great pianist). A fine set of players in Iain Bellamy (sax), Ike Sturm (bass), and the ETHEL string ensemble fill out Eric Starr's pallete, and the range and resolution of his imagination is truly stunning.

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  • John Burdick reviews the Eric Starr Group's Such is Life.


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