Composer Nicholas Urie could be content with crafting large ensemble jazz excursions. But the twenty-something’s viewpoint, creative vision, and ambition is much broader. On his conceptual long-form project, Excerpts from an Online Dating Service, Urie remarkably exploits the Internet as a foundation for his creativity, specifically the confessional expressions he discovered on personal ad websites. While it’s not uncommon to find inspiration from the online community, these autobiographical announcements provide new fodder for Urie’s artistic disposition, offering a strange kind of collaboration between musician and those who have left their thoughts, rants, and responses strewn among blogs, bulletin boards and personal web pages.
Excerpts from an Online Dating Service marries Urie’s varied background, uniting his jazz composition skills, his active conducting and arranging experience, and his ability to combine jazz with diverse contemporary musical forms. Other musicians could easily have turned this undertaking into a gimmick or cheapened the real-life online personalities whose entreaties, pleas, and promises impart a marked naturalism to the lyrics. As Urie notes “Those people who take their time writing really manage to say something special about who they are and how they see life. What initially piqued my interest was the amazing level of vulnerability people are willing to show.” There is no derision or irony, and the fragments of real dialogue used in the songwriting are emotionally intensified.
Urie employs spirited, lively and colloquial characteristics to color his compositional palette. He uses Red Piano label owner Frank Carlberg on keyboards, a quintet reed section (with clarinet bolstering two tracks), four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, bass and drums. But the central axis is vocalist Christine Correa, who verbalizes the gutter poetry of the casual seekers of sexual fantasies.
After a brassy and cabaret-ish overture that sets the album’s overall tone and presents the main theme, the biographical “About Me” introduces the first persona. As pianist Carlberg, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Michael Calabrese and the horn section lay out a roguish New Orleans-like stride, Correa reveals a terse profile: “I’m thirty, 6’3″, blond hair, blue eyes, in a band – I’m a singer.” Correa gives the rest of the song’s R-rated solicitation an unusual meaning divorced from the original intent, betraying a feeling of emasculation never planned by the man who authored the lines.
On slowly turning Christmas come-on “Holidaze,” Urie spins a wayward and melancholy melody led by Martin’s steadfast bass and Calabrese’s ticking rhythm. The piece is a striking first-person ballad, about a woman alone during the holidays and hoping to hook up. With a non-judgmental frankness, Correa intones, “No gift-wrap needed/That is for sure/ Why can’t there be one day/I have some joy?” The number finishes with an extended Martin bass solo, with the horns and Carlberg’s piano carefully curling and gliding behind him.
That’s followed by the very naughty discipline ditty “Bad Girl?,” which commences with Correa’s solo voice singing the self-complacent excerpt: “I am a forty-two year old/Good looking and sexy.” The band then enters with a waggish march. This cut is a good example of just how illustrious Urie’s ensemble is: flexible and evenly at-home with a motif movement while performing swinging, straightforward jazz, and then switching to an old-fashioned bump & grind parody that ends the ribald declaration.
The lengthiest and most unexpurgated arrangement is “Wayne,” based on a prisoner’s lament for extreme sex. While Correa candidly and brilliantly sings some acutely freakish quotations, the group deftly moves from bop to free jazz, exorcising Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, highlighted by saxophone workouts, Carlberg’s skittering piano runs, and Calabrese’s resourceful percussive aptitude.
If it is not clear, Excerpts from an Online Dating Service includes graphic and explicit subject matter ranging from bondage to extramarital cheating to hard drug use, and sometimes the libretto reads like the equivalent to the scrawls found on public toilet stall walls. However, Urie, Correa, and the other musicians also vindicate these rants and raves, displaying the intimate emotions that inadvertently run through the coarsest language. It is the humanistic observations in these publicly exposed narratives that conveys a rare honesty and openness that Urie has astutely tapped into.
Doug Simpson, Audiophile Audition