Jazz Album Review: Hailey Brinnel’s “Beautiful Tomorrow” — Lots of Contagious Fun
By Allen Michie
Fans of Postmodern Jukebox and the swing revival will enjoy this album, as will any jazz fan who appreciates taut small-group arrangements and terse, focused solos.
Hailey Brinnel, Beautiful Tomorrow (Outside In Music)
Philadelphia-based vocalist and trombonist Hailey Brinnel’s sophomore release Beautiful Tomorrow (Outside In Music) is an enjoyable romp through some pre-bop favorites and a few sharp originals in period style. Fans of Postmodern Jukebox and the swing revival will enjoy this one, as will any jazz fan who appreciates taut small-group arrangements and terse, focused solos.
Brinnel is a fine singer and an even better trombonist, but she’s better known for the former, and there are only a handful of trombone solos on the record. I wish it were the other way around. She gets a big, burly tone out of the trombone and improvises with engaging ideas, whereas her singing strikes me as thin and unmemorable. She was a finalist in the 2021 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition, and that’s great, but I confess that surprises me. She sings with almost no vibrato and little distinctive style to her phrasing. Think of Blossom Dearie an octave lower. On some tracks, like “I Want to Be Happy” (and “Stardust” on her I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles album), she sings flat in places.
Still, Brinnel conveys contagious fun in her music. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” a tune lifted from a Disney theme park, is casual and cheerful, and Chris Oatts shoots out a jubilant alto sax solo like Cannonball. “I Might Be Evil” is a Brinnel original with clever lyrics (again, recalling Dearie) and a sly minor bass line carried by the piano. “The Sound” is another original, based closely on Denzil Best’s “Move” from Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions. It’s a standout track. The lyrics go whizzing by at a highly energized tempo, so pay attention! Brinnel does some impressive vocal runs up and down the scales, but I was hoping to get to hear her rip on the trombone as well.
“Walk Between the Raindrops” is from Donald Fagen’s Nightfly album, and Brinnel straightens out the original’s shuffle into swing, turning it into an effective jazz number. “Tea for Two” goes the other way around, transforming the Tin Pan Alley tune into an uptempo shuffle, with Dan Monaghan playing brushes on the drums. We finally get a trumpet solo from the great Terell Stafford, who is underused on the album. At only 2:52, “Tea for Two” is a fun quickie that will go easy on the airways.
“Wayfaring Stranger” is a traditional song probably most familiar in Johnny Cash’s version. It’s strongly reminiscent of Gershwin’s “Summertime” in its chord changes and fragments of melody. It gets one of Brinnel’s best arrangements here as a New Orleans funeral dirge. There’s collective improvisation from the horn section, with brief genre-honest solos from everyone. Brinnel gets a start on an excellent ‘bone solo, and it would have been nice to hear her stretch it out a bit longer. Same thing for “There Will Never Be,” done here in 5/4 time with a Brubeck swing — Brinnel takes only a few bars on trombone and cuts it off just as she’s getting started. We jazz fans are cool with tracks over 4:30 long, you know.
Ballads aren’t really the focus on this jazz party album, and they aren’t Brinnel’s strongest suit. “A Cottage for Sale” is a tough choice because Brinnel is a prosaic singer. This one requires a real actress to sell the nostalgic sadness. (Once you’ve seen Judy Garland’s traumatized version, it’s hard to be convinced by any other.) It’s a straight ballad here, with no arrangement gimmicks. The key is set a little low for Brinnel’s vocal range, which doesn’t help. Much better is “Candy,” a vocal duet with Joe Plowman’s walking bass. Brinnel compensates for vocal limitations with melodic and harmonic imagination, something that Jo Lawry understands on her latest album. Brinnel keeps the words and where they are placed, but she improvises freely inside that restriction.
Brinnel is also a music educator, ranging from early childhood to her position as faculty at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. We should all be glad she’s out there. No doubt she not only teaches her students high-level technical skills of performance and arranging, but also the infectious joy of making swinging music.
Allen Michie works in higher education administration in Austin, Texas. He’s the administrator of the Jazztodon.com instance on Mastodon and the Miles Davis Discussion Group on Facebook.