Trumpet player and jazz singer Brian Newman has had a longstanding New York City career. For over 10 years, Newman’s role in the city’s nightlife has ranged from different venues, performances with pop superstars and a residency at the Rose Bar at Gramercy Park Hotel. He is the bread and butter of jazz in the city. But it was not until this year that Newman released his second album, “Showboat,” a release showcasing his talent, skill and ability to cater to a wide audience.
Newman’s first album, “Eyes on the City” (2016), features 11 tracks full of strong performances. The title track, “Eyes on the City,” is heavily focused on Newman’s crooning voice, but on the beautiful slow listen of “It’s Alright,” his voice is soft and melodic. When it was released, “Eyes on the City” presented Newman as a versatile jazz star, able to flow from fast and fiery hits to slower solos. Now, “Showboat” not only reminds listeners of that versatility, but also builds upon it.
“Showboat” opens with “San Pedro,” an original song that sets the tone well. Flowing and chaotic, “San Pedro” is a fun listen, with Newman’s trumpet taking center stage in furies of runs and blows. It is easily a highlight of “Showboat,” a testament to Newman’s time in the New York City jazz circuit. Newman’s voice hops aboard on the fresh, outlandish cover of Beck’s 1998 hit, “Tropicalia.” Newman’s sharp, almost spoken singing is clean and crisp as he sings about “an air-conditioned sun” and tropical locations. For a moment, it is a song that transports listeners from the dark and the cold to beautiful summer warmth; warmth being something Newman just cannot help but add to every song on “Showboat.”
There are moments throughout “Showboat” that make the album an incredibly easy listen. “Dancing in the Moonlight” and the groovy “Spooky” are soft and relaxing, with “Spooky” giving “Showboat” a psychedelic vibe. Newman covers jazz staples “Pennies from Heaven” and “Sunday in New York” well, the latter sounding as if it was made for Newman’s ecstatic and timeless voice. Here, he moves through the lyrics effortlessly, giving “Sunday in New York” a bustling hum unlike any song on “Showboat.” But the album’s highlight is held by Lady Gaga, whose featured vocals on jazz standard “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” fleshes out “Showboat” brilliantly.
For one thing, “Showboat” would feel somewhat incomplete without “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” It is a popular song to cover for many musicians, with Lana Del Rey covering it on “Honeymoon” (2015). Del Rey’s cover was transformed to fit into her cinematic, smoky musical world, while Gaga’s cover on “Showboat” is more emotionally faithful to Nina Simone’s original. It is a reminder that Gaga, a well-established chameleon in sound and performance, shines bright in the realm of jazz — her Grammy Award-winning duet album with Tony Bennett, “Cheek to Cheek” (2014), is just one example of this.
Newman and Gaga’s friendship goes way back, beginning even before the two began performing together on Gaga’s Thanksgiving special, “The Today Show” (1952–) and “Cheek to Cheek.” Newman also played the trumpet for “Just Another Day” on Gaga’s “Joanne” (2016). It is needless to say that Newman was smart to include Gaga on “Showboat,” his trumpet and her voice fit well together.
But Newman still holds his own without Gaga, a reminder of how flexible he is. Sure, he is fun and bright on “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” the album’s closing track, but he is also deep and hollowed on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” another strong moment on “Showboat.” The ballad lets Newman show his range of vocal talent, emotion pouring through every lyric. He and his band breathe life into these old classics, making them feel modern and exciting.
“Showboat” is an easy listen — there is no doubting how easily it flows from track to track, highlighting Newman’s vocals and him and his band’s performances. But it is also a strong release from a New York City jazz veteran. The tracks are vibrant, interesting and showcase a wide range of talent and performance. While “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” featuring Gaga’s vocals, is the album’s greatest moment, it is not the only thing Newman relies on. It seems Newman has something to offer every jazz listener on his sophomore effort, from the most casual to the most religious.