Rob Sudduth's Just One of Those Things: Music Inspired by Frank Sinatra (A-Records) embodies much of jazz convention's most tedious attributes: old-time melodic-harmonic constructs, neatly arranged in a program of easy-to-digest standards (swinging midtempo numbers and sentimental ballads), proffered in a trendy tribute package. Miraculously, the longtime tenor saxophonist in Graham Connah's original-music groups rises above cover-band banality with a freshness and vitality that belies the content of the set list.
Sudduth brings a veteran improviser's keen ear and rich tone to smart, gorgeous readings of chestnuts (“April in Paris,” “Violets for Your Furs”) and unapologetic schmaltz (“Something Stupid”). Whereas John Coltrane would transform equally silly tunes like “My Favorite Things” or “Inch Worm” into something else entirely, the Bay Area saxophonist mines the classic tracks for their deep-seated lyricism and uncanny catchiness, and in so doing invigorates the melodies with a timeless kind of romanticism that's not only convincing, but compelling as well.
The interplay between Sudduth and fellow Connah bandmate Marty Wehner (trombone) is particularly stunning. They cut loose like ragtime homies on the upbeat jam “Too Marvelous for Words,” sharing melody lines and trading tuneful leads with the controlled fire of lively collective improvisers — not a typical take on Ol' Blue Eyes by any means. Yet this fresh approach to the old-school songbook is precisely how Sudduth makes the classics matter.
Rob Sudduth appears on Monday, Dec. 20, at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Tickets are $6; call (510) 238-9200.