Darrian Ford, New Standards

by Sylvannia Garutch

Darrian Ford is a vocalist who originally hails from Chicago.  His background credits are predominately in theater and television.  He began his professional theater career at age 13 in Oscar Brown Jr’s The Great Nitty Gritty.  At 15, he joined The Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater and at 19 moved to NYC to dance in the companies of Alvin Ailey and Donald Byrd/The Group. He made his Broadway debut as Charlie in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair.  He also appeared in The Who’s TOMMY (B’way/First National), Smokey Joe’s Café and the first national tour of The Color Purple.  His television credits include his portrayal of Fayard Nicholas in HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandrige, starring Halle Berry, and a credit for a 2004 episode of Disney’s That’s So Raven (The Pirate, Four’s A Crowd, 2004), under the name Darrian C. Ford.  Certainly, his background is adroit in theater, with brief credits in television.  New Standards is his debut full-length album categorized in the jazz idiom.

The album kicks off with a Ford original entitled “Loose Cotton Shirt.” A relaxed Latin selection with a fluid intro that features James Perkins Jr. on flute. Ford’s vocal style has a slick R&B tinge to his phrasing. His lyrics are strong, but do they stand up to the timeless standards of the jazz repertoire, well only time will tell. The female backup singers give the composition a nice orchestrative color. The counterpoint between Ford’s vocals and Perkins is an added bonus. Perkins is a highlight on this track. The bridge finds Ford and the chorus of voices singing a well-written syllabic melody.

“On the Ocean” is a relaxed twelve-eight ballad that has interesting orchestration and a guest appearance from vocalist Jess Godwin. The string arrangement supporting Ford is well-written and again gives New Standards a sound that is less heard in the jazz genre. Ford builds the melody line in an impressive manner with influences from blues, R&B and gospel. Godwin sings a counterpoint line under Ford, adding interest and giving the listener a lot to take in. This is a stimulating smooth jazz vocal cover of a K’Jon Hit. Though Ford’s voice is not as robust as K’Jon’s, Ford takes an ornamental approach to the melody. The build up to the key change is a strong musical moment. Ford brings a new sound to a well-known gem.

Overall, I am not sure I can call New Standards a jazz album. It ranges from smooth-jazz, to R&B, to gospel and blues, with many tunes offering an adult contemporary slant.  Ford approaches the tunes with a measured rhythm and overstated diction, giving the songs a stiff theatrical feel.  At times, Ford’s voice is commanding when he opens his chest voice, while at other times his voice has a nasal quality that becomes tiresome after many listens.  Certainly, a worthy debut album from an emerging artist, but to label it a jazz album might be a bit of a stretch.  Maybe in time when he shakes off a bit of the dramatic cabaret and taps into the depth of rhythm and harmony of jazz, he might very well put forth new standards.

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