Album Review: Andrew Bird – Sunday Morning Put-On

[Loma Vista; 2024]

Jazz is nothing new for Andrew Bird. In his early days, the Chicago musician cut his teeth playing in various outfits like the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Kevin O’Donnell Quality Six, as well as venturing into the genre plenty himself. Look back on Bird’s 1996 debut album Music of Hair and you’ll see a daring plunge with the likes of “Minor Beatrice”, a magnificently scrappy melding of traditional folk, classical music, and small group jazz. Come the following years Bird formed his Bowl of Fire, which allowed him to spread his wings further, composing originals in a hotpot style, fusing zydeco, folk, and New Orleans spice.

The influence and fondness of jazz has always been there in Bird’s solo work too, be it in the jauntier moments of 2012’s Hands of Glory or hits from his recent albums, such as the bluesy “Capsized” or the ambling instrumental sections of “Bloodless”. That he has finally put out a bonafide jazz record then shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Anyone who has been following the exciting, varied, and generous output that Bird has been releasing into the world over the past 30 years or so will only see Sunday Morning Put-On as something of an inevitable step in his musical journey.

If there’s a quality that carries through Sunday Morning Put-On, then it’s a respect for the genre. While Bird – alongside Alan Hampton on bass and Ted Poor on drums, making up the Andrew Bird Trio – brings his own style to these songs, he knows better than to try muddy them or deconstruct them past a point of recognition. Sure, you’ll find his signature wry delivery on “My Ideal”, but it adds a pleasing personality to the jazz standard. On the slinky “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”, Bird sings from what sounds like a reverberated chamber in the next room before coming into the foreground, offering a playful touch on the track.

It’s on the album’s final (and only original) number here “Ballon de Peut-être” where we see Bird branch out fully, wandering and exploring across nine minutes; while it’s very much an interpretative gathering of influences from the nine songs that preceded it, the track has more in common with one of his Echolocations compositions than an offering from the Great American Songbook.

For the most part though, Bird and his team keep fairly to the book. Granted, with streaks of violin solos sweeping across each track and pizzicato percolating amiably, you would be hard pressed to mistake these renditions for those of anyone else. This is very much a communal record though: Hampton punctuates, occasionally playfully but never drawing attention to himself; and Poor’s brushing and soft snare hits make sure bars in the music are never left unadorned. Guitarist Jeff Parker drops in for a few, adding a welcome woozy tone to “I Cover The Waterfront”, a soft Jim Hall-like dreaminess to “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” and some nimble fingerpicking to “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”. Pianist Larry Goldings also guests, gently colouring the edges of “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. 

Atop is Bird though, his croon that bit more languid and pillowy than it has ever been. He takes the lead on the tracks here, going about “Django” in a dreamy but lighthearted manner, and cushioning up against the romantically surreal “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”. He inserts some pep into the mix for “Caravan” (which is positively sleepy compared to the version he leads on Kevin O’Donnell’s Control Freak) and laments soothingly on “I Cover The Waterfront”. Bird is in full control here in terms of his understanding and his arrangements, and while he plays some numbers too carefully like he’s afraid to cause creases or offence, he does play like he knows all the corners of these songs like the back of his hand. (He spent his early 20s listening to blues and jazz each morning and night on WBEZ radio in Chicago, and you can hear all that absorbed inside him here.)

While it’s hard to point to any recognisable fault on Sunday Morning Put-On, its weakness lies in it being an album that doesn’t offer tremendous excitement on the prospect of returning at any given moment. Without a doubt this is perfect music for those cosy and lazy days indoors, cup of tea on hand as rain falls outside; the title captures the mood perfectly. This isn’t an album that has an addictive buzz to it like Bird’s other solo output, but like his instrumental work, when the mood strikes this will hit just right. He’s making the music he wants to, and this album is a love letter to the music that shaped him. A sweet elegy to small group jazz, Sunday Morning Put-On almost demands you lay back and just let the standards do their thing. Without a doubt, they are in good, careful hands here.