Peter Eldridge is a tour-de-force in vocal jazz. In fact, because of his highly respected career as an educator and musician, Eldridge is high near understood as legendary. Perhaps best known for his work with his staple vocal group the New York Voices, he throws his musical personality from his group work into his vibrant solo career. His fifth studio album, Disappearing Day, with its strength in songwriting and almost tongue-in-cheek lyricism, moves his music from its deserved pedestal in jazz further into genre-blending uncharted territory.
And genre-blending is indeed the name of the game on this record. While it’s not uncommon to pull from a variety of influences in 21st century jazz music, Peter Eldridge’s approach stems from mixing together distinctly different styles, rather than having his music rooted in another genre. He scopes out fragments from a variety of sources, pulling especially from American folk, African and Latin music as a complement to his prevalent jazz influence. Seamlessly and with charming musicality, he creates a sound that is wholly natural. The virtuosity in his composition and playing is not always heard, but is instead understood fundamentally. The music Eldridge writes is harmonically rich, but never distractingly so. It’s expressive yet nuanced. His singing ranges from haunting to somber to twangy, never straying far from softer undertones. No song is ever abrasive. Most songs do, however, hit the listener with his full emotional intention.
Disappearing Day first captivates with the tune “Mind to Fly.” The song builds, adding layer upon layer of undulating beauty. Background vocals and chants surround the band, which in turn maintains structure through its odd-metered motion. Eldridge skates his voice above, over and through the music with supreme timing and comfort.
“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin,” originally written by Stephin Merritt of the indie-pop band the Magnetic Fields, forces you to listen to contrast. The title itself is goofy enough for a second glance. Opposing lines in the mandolin and bass connect the song. Eldridge’s voice circles around the plucked strings, creating a gentle rhythmic dissonance that draws comparison to David Byrne. As more parts are added to the mix, the song drives forward. Mellower tunes such as “Jenny Wren” are more subtle at their core. His reinterpretation of the Paul McCartney song fills some of the space from the original arrangement. It adds fullness, all the while maintaining its eerie nature.
On Disappearing Day, Eldridge couples himself with extraordinary musicians from all over the musical spectrum. Mariel Roberts, Alan Hampton, and Anat Cohen are all on his list of collaborators. The track “Wish You with Me” features singer-songwriter Becca Stevens to round out the vocal duet. Their voices meld together with the piano melody through simple, elegant harmonies. Albeit a short song, the music speaks to Eldridge’s soulful humility.
Later tracks on the record approach composition more minimalistically. Instruments and vocal harmonies are fewer in number. “Around Us” is performed a capella. It’s lyrical propensity and sometimes polyrhythmic timing frees him to use all of his strengths as a veteran vocalist and arranger. “Some Other Time” largely incorporates guitar and bass, tapering off into the album’s conclusion slowly and peacefully.