Jazz singer/songwriter Michael Franks is an artist most jazz fans feel strongly about one way or another. His unique, romantic poet-cum-laid-back hipster approach to jazz signing is breezy, light, and languid. It's also uniquely his own, though deeply influenced by Brazilian jazz, bossa, and samba. Time Together, his first recording of new material in five years -- and his debut for Shanachie -- is unlikely to change anyone's opinion of him, but that doesn't mean this is a rote recording. Time Together is an airy, groove-ridden summer travelog that ranges from St. Tropez and New York to Paris, France, and Egypt; it journeys through the nostalgic past and finds space in the present moment, with cleverly notated, languorous, ironic observations about life. Franks split the production and arranging duties between Charles Blenzig, Gil Goldstein, Chuck Loeb, Scott Petito, and Mark Egan. The rest of the international cast on this polished 11-song set includes old friends and new faces David Spinozza, Mike Mainieri, David Mann, Eric Marienthal, Till Brnner, Alex Spiagin, Jerry Marotta, Billy Kilson, Romero Lubambo, and backing vocalist Veronica Nunn. Time Together is wonderfully polished without being overly slick. The set opens with "Now That the Summer's Here," a samba-inspired paean to laziness with excellent solos by Bronner's trumpet and Marienthal's alto. The arrangement by Loeb includes a perfectly balanced meld of acoustic and electric guitars, with the harmony chorus between Franks and Carmen Cuesta adding an essentially restrained yet celebratory tone. "One Day in St. Tropez" is one Franks' finest reminiscence songs. Goldstein's acoustic piano, Greg Cohen's bass, and Lubambo's acoustic guitar evoke classic bossa while the singer details in exotically rich, nostalgically romantic lyrics a 1963 hitchhiking excursion through Southern France. "Mice" is a humorous, metaphorically hip irony, illustrated beautifully by Manieri's vibes, Petito's bass, and Spinozza's guitar with a backing vocal from Beth Neilsen-Chapman. "Samba Blue," another of thew album's finer tracks, offers the tale of a long-ago love affair in Paris, without a hint of cloying or regret, thanks to Franks fine lyric and melody, and a jaunty Loeb arrangement featuring a beautiful alto solo by Marienthal. "My Heart Said Wow" is a straight-ahead duet with Nunn, boasting a fine trumpet solo by Spiagin's trumpet. "Feathers from an Angel's Wing," the longest and perhaps most beautiful track here is, fittingly, also the closer. Arranged by Egan, whose fretless bass introduces it, Loeb's guitars, Clifford Carter's keys, and Joe Bonadio's drums illustrate it elegantly. The singer's use of Zen wisdom in the modern jazz lyric and melody, underscores everything fine and right in Franks' art from The Art of Tea to the present day. While his framework may be contemporary, his execution is timeless, making Time Together Franks' most consistent, graceful collection of songs in the 21st century. ~ Thom Jurek
JazzTimes (p.66) - "Much of TIME TOGETHER unfolds like a global summer travelogue and, fittingly, features a top-drawer assortment of international guests..."