Hailing from the Bay area of the west coast, the trio known as Beep! -- Michael Coleman on piano, Nate Brenner on bass and Rob Schwartz on drums -- offers a dynamic, vibrant sound on its debut album, Short Stories. (The exclamation mark in their name is definitely appropriate.) Of the 13 tracks, eight were composed by at least one of the trio. And those original tracks are by and large the strongest of the bunch, in terms of combining strength of performance and strength of composition.
"Thanks Hank" has a Vince Guaraldi feel to it -- not that it's derivative, but has sets a similar amicable rhythm. "9:2" is an improvisational jazz track, with Coleman erratically traveling across the piano keys while Brenner and Schwartz occasionally jump in, but mostly provide a steady background groove. "Chorale" takes a slow burn approach with its captured potential energy. The intentionality in this track is apparent; the musicians are clearly wanting to bust loose but are purposely containing themselves. As chemically odd and complex as the title for "(NB)2H" is, the formula in this track works (especially the uncredited guest saxophonist).
Two of the unoriginal works are quite good, which showcases Beep!'s strength as performers. "Autumn Nocturne" (by Kim Gannon and Joseph Myrow) is a consistent jazz presentation that actually captures the mood of a fall night. A contender for strongest performance on the album is "In the Garage" (written by Rivers Cuomo of the band Weezer), a great piece that showcases the strength of each member. At the halfway point, Brenner provides a wonderful crescendo from which Coleman and Schwartz overlay a delightful pace.
The biggest downside to this album is their performance on more established musicians' work. Another instance, their rendition of Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," is pleasant enough on its own, but seems pale and weak compared to Beep!'s original work. And before anyone thinks this reviewer is claiming Beep! is better than Cole Porter, that's not my point. It's just that Beep! seems to perform their own work better than they perform Porter's work (which makes sense). It's unfortunate that they didn't provide another example of their own music in lieu of someone more "popular."
A similar situation occurs when they lay out Simon & Garfunkel's "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright." The strength of the piano seems to be the tangential connection for this track on the album. Otherwise, the pensive, crawling pace of Simon & Garfunkel's tune is antithetical to Beep!'s inherent energy on their original endeavors. Billy Strayhorn's "Rain Check" is aptly performed and definitely has that aforementioned inherent energy, but the style just doesn't mesh with the rest of the album.
It's understandable why a debut album might mix it up a bit with some of the artist's own work and some recognizable fare, but for the most part, Short Stories would have been stronger if Beep! had stuck with their own catalogue and creations. However, that's really a minor flaw in an otherwise solid album, especially a debut album. Beep! shows a lot of promise and skill, and will hopefully have more stories to share.
C. Nathan Coyle
8 December 2007