The Jorgensens Marry Old Jazz & Modern Flourishes Via “The Lexington Stretch” (Album Review)

Yes, we bring you another duo, but it certainly sounds like a big band on several tunes. Kurt and Brianna Jorgensen (The Jorgensens) step forth with their second album, The Lexington Stretch,  in the company of a dozen other players, including a three-piece horn section and several backup vocalists, although the configurations are different in each track, ranging from a quartet to a baker’s dozen. Eight of the ten were written either by both or either of the Jorgensens with a cover from Willie Dixon (“If the Sea Were Whiskey”) and the standard “St. James Infirmary.” In the latter two cases, their arrangements are imaginative. This is an album mostly about songwriting, vocal harmonies, and a rather special feeling for the intersection of old-time jazz and blues. 

They are not an overnight sensation in terms of working together, or, mostly in Kurt’s case, as solo acts. They began their musical partnership in 2014 that eventually led to marriage and parenthood. Kurt has been a long-time bandleader, releasing eight albums to date. The Minnesota Music Awards has presented Kurt with the trifecta – Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year. Brianna Tagg-Jorgensen, a multi-instrumentalist, has played in several bands and toured nationally. They teamed up when Kurt produced and arranged her debut album. 

The treatment of the opening Dixon tune certainly doesn’t resemble a Chicago blues style. It has Kurt and Brianna  on vocals, accompanied by three other vocalists and just an upright bass, trumpet and clarinet. Similarly, “St. James Infirmary,” a tune that Kurt was going to use for an album in 2014 but abandoned for lack of fit, is a centerpiece in terms of vibe and sound. Kurt’s vocal is supported by wonderful clarinet and sax from Jeff King and trumpet from Jeff Levine while Donald “Hye Pockets” Robertson keeps a steady, soulful beat. This may be one of the most covered tunes ever, but Kurt’s arrangement and delivery stand out.

Brianna’s impassioned, gritty vocals are best on her own “Real Women.” Contemporary soul, or what they’ve dubbed “Americana Soul” is perhaps best represented in “Sweet Love,” written and sung by Brianna. Other highlight tracks are “Unchained,” written by Kurt who takes the lead vocal, “Voo Doo,” a co-write with Brianna on lead with a nine-piece band, and “Storyville,” a Southern soul tune written by Kurt with him in lead and featuring more superb reeds from Jeff King.  Yet, along with “Goin’ Goin’ Gone,” a guitar-driven tune from Kurt, pure blues comes in the closer, “Chocolate and Coffee Blues,” written and sung by Brianna with nice interplay between guitars and horns from King and Levine. To be sure, there’s a good deal of Crescent City in their sound.

Their album release show scheduled for September 14th in St. Paul will feature a ten-piece band and should enable them to replicate this throw-back-contemporary sound well.  The two often perform just as a duo when touring as each can play more than one instrument. Yet, the vocal harmonies and especially the horns seem so vitally important to this recording, it takes some imagination to realize what their duo sound would yield except to know it would be strong in a different way. Kurt views it this way, “Looking back, I am proud of the legacy of collected works which encompass over a hundred songs released before we started working together. I had been trying to create the Americana Soul sound for a long time. It plateaued and needed fresh life. Brianna helps me grow and be a more ‘unchained’ artist than I was before (pun intended). With this album, I think we’ve finally reached that pocket where there is a balance of creativity, songs and the sound we’ve been hearing in our heads slowly refining themselves to become what is now “The Lexington Stretch.” 

Seldom has a band married the old school pre-war jazz sound with contemporary flourishes like The Jorgensens. Call it Americana Soul or whatever you want. It sounds terrific.

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