Mood Lit

Jim Duffy

Moody and bouncy instrumental pop tunes featuring a 1960s Wurlitzer electronic piano and a swinging combo, recorded in warm analog sound.

With "Mood Lit," his second full-length release of moody and bouncy instrumental pop tunes, Jim Duffy moves closer to the front of the stage but remains off-center.

Duffy leads a small combo on piano and an

Moody and bouncy instrumental pop tunes featuring a 1960s Wurlitzer electronic piano and a swinging combo, recorded in warm analog sound.

With "Mood Lit," his second full-length release of moody and bouncy instrumental pop tunes, Jim Duffy moves closer to the front of the stage but remains off-center.

Duffy leads a small combo on piano and an early-1960s Wurlitzer electronic piano. Reference points include AM radio pop music, detective dramas, lachrymose partings at the Pan Am terminal, twilight falling on kitchenettes, lounge acts in their third set.

Duffy pays homage along the way, but he has paid off some musical debts and is doing more original research. He’s going for more specific feelings. "Stevie Says” may produce sensations of an old Movie of the Week on color TV, but this is not a retro affair. "Mood Lit" is sincere to a fault.

The sound is leaner than on Duffy’s first full-length release, "Side One," and the combo may be swinging a little harder. On drums is Dennis Diken of the world-renowned Smithereens. On bass guitar is Paul Page, who records and tours with Ian Hunter. On guitars and lap steel is Lance Doss, who has recorded and toured with John Cale.

The combo convened in a basement studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sound engineer Greg Duffin (no relation) recorded the group on 16-track tape, to get that tube-warm analog sound. Duffin is often seen working the mixing desk on Regina Spektor’s world tours.

"We recorded it very quickly, over a long period of time," Duffy explains, in his typically obtuse manner.

Duffy and the combo stretch out within the three-minute pop structure, allowing room for the unexpected. They perform with minimal fuss and a lot of fervor, starting with a head-turning version of Mose Allison's "Look Here," then moving through eleven original tunes. On "Early Germ," they work the area where twang meets soul. On "Free Formation," the combo demonstrates that they came up through the rock basements. “The Night Clerk,” is an eerie audio portrait. Then, on “Our Next Guest,” the combo suddenly appears in matching gaudy blazers. What does he think he’s up to?

"If you don't notice it's instrumental, so much the better," Duffy says.

Kevin Kendrick of A Big Yes and a Small No adds an almost-too-intimate vibraphone part to “If You Insist.” On "Memento Mori," Mac Gollehon’s compact, punchy brass arrangement puts the tune over the goal line. Claire Daly’s baritone sax on “Balladeer” supplies a bright moment. On the title tune, "Mood Lit," Duffy makes an obligatory and "almost involutary," as he describes it, nod to Burt Bacharach.

Jim Duffy has performed or recorded with the rock-and-roll pioneers Wanda Jackson and Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon, as well as the Bottle Rockets, Reid Paley, Tandy, the Fleshtones, Speedball Baby, Bone-Box, the Damnwells and many others. Duffy played keyboards in the band Martin’s Folly and sometimes still does. Once upon a time, he played bass guitar in the Boston band Rods and Cones.

The Jim Duffy Combo, the core group of Duffy, Diken, Page and Doss, plus the occasional special guest, can sometimes be heard at the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B in Manhattan and at other venues in the New York area.

Is "Mood Lit" good "make-out" music? Dim the lights and see for yourself.

-- Derek Shackwell-Smith St. Cleve Chronicle

Pop-jazz. Jazz-pop. The labels are mere shorthand for a sort of music that's tough to describe. The terms can often be applied in a pejorative sense, used to describe (and dismiss) disposable music. But that's not at all what we have here. "Mood Lit," the second album from Brooklyn pianist Jim Duffy, is a delight from start to finish.

The dozen tracks serve up sprightly melodies that swing. Duffy is aided and abetted by a small combo featuring The Smithereens‘ Dennis Diken on the trap kit, plus Paul Page on bass and Lance Doss on guitars (the latter two are also members of Ian Hunter's band). The lineup is the same as on Duffy's first release, 2005's "Side One." On "Mood Lit," Duffy drives strong, snappy compositions via acoustic piano or a Wurlitzer 200A.

There are some production flourishes -- such as a vibes, horns and glockenspiel -- but "Mood Lit" is an incredibly organic disc. The songs sound as if they're being played right in your living room. The melodies are strong enough that vocals aren't missed; on the contrary, the arrangements would suffer if anything else were added. Note-perfect arrangements throughout make "Mood Lit" that unique disc that's perfect as a backdrop to cocktails and entertaining and highly engaging enough to reward careful listening. Musical touchstones lean in a jazz-for-all-the-people direction: hints of Brubeck, Bacharach and Guaraldi are there, and there's even a subtle nod to the Ides of March's "Vehicle," a 1970 Billboard pop hit. Another tune kicks off with an ambience that calls to mind Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" but heads immediately in another (equally pleasing) direction.

Sometimes instrumental albums suffer from repetition or a dearth of ideas. "Mood Lit" finishes as strong as it starts, and doesn't sag in the middle either. Pointing out a highlight would only do disservice to the other eleven tracks. Highly recommended.

-- Bill Kopp

It's rare that I'll review an instrumental album. But this one hit my sweet spot -- and with Dennis Diken (Smithereens) on the drums, I figured it was worth looking into. Jim Duffy gathered a small jazz combo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to put this lounge pop confection together. Included are Paul Page (bass) and Lance Doss (guitars) from Ian Hunter's band. If you enjoy Burt Bacharach or The Vince Guaraldi Trio, you will really love this album. The keyboards are where Jim shines on every track here. You'll hear a bit of a Stevie Wonder styled melody on the tribute "Stevie Says." Occasionally it takes a detour -- "Memento Mori" is one of those songs where the horns take you on a journey, and you don't miss vocals one bit here. Every song tends to flow in a different direction, so unlike other jazz pop albums I've heard it doesn't get stylistically repetitive. Superior production and mixing work here balances out the players, so no one overshadows the other and the combo plays like a well-oiled (organic) machine. Overall a very enjoyable album, and a big cut above your average instrumentals heard in Starbucks. So put down the coffee and enjoy a cocktail with Jim Duffy.

-- Aaron Kupferberg

Duffy composes utterly charming pieces for the piano and organ. Duffy's pieces are instantly attractive, but the writing is sophisticated enough to attract exacting ears. Another fine album from a guy who knows how to make good music.

-- Aiding and Abetting, November 2009

That bit about "twilight falling on kitchenettes" is totally true. Check out "Balladeer" for a super smooth, but very mobile number.

-- WLUR FM, Lexington, Va.

Soundtrack music for home furnishing shopping, detective dramas, and under-70 mph car chases. piano/keyboard-led concept pop. if nothing else, do your voice breaks with any of these tracks!

-- Sam Silver, WESU FM, Middletown, Conn.

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