Any posthumous album is on some level a haunting, but that feels especially true of Jimmy Scott’s I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming. A labor of love and heartbreak, it features lush accompaniment and a starry array of guests, like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Joe Pesci. But of course the album’s shining centerpiece is Scott, who died in 2014 at 88, and whose otherworldly voice rings as vulnerable, piercing and present as ever.
The album’s ghostly impression has a lot to do with that singular voice. But it’s also the result of a few other valedictory echoes. Two of its featured guests are no longer with us: the great Brazilian singer-songwriter Oscar Castro-Neves, whose voice and guitar are heard on an intimate “Love Letters,” and saxophonist James Moody, who plays a tenor solo on a slow-drip version of “Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool.” In addition, the album was mixed by Phil Ramone, who died in 2013.
Still, those losses don't overwhelm the album's air of satiny elegance and bittersweet composure. The brainchild of German producer Ralf Kemper, it features the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra and a top-flight assortment of jazz musicians, like organist Joey DeFrancesco, trumpeter Till Brönner — and pianist Kenny Barron, who is featured on a bossa nova arrangement of "How Deep is the Ocean," by Irving Berlin.
Scott's voice seems to float over this song, in an almost distracted form of reverie. But he also phrases with an intuitive connection to the rhythm section, which has Castro-Neves on acoustic guitar, Michael Valerio on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. Barron's piano solo begins about two-and-a-half minutes in: he takes a single spin through the form before Scott steps back on the carousel. "Uh-oh," the singer ad-libs after offering his first line. He sounds like he's enjoying himself — and in such enlightened company, who wouldn't?
That's a complicated question, as it happens. In case it isn’t already clear, this album required a lot of patience and perseverance on the part of Kemper. He was keen to document the process behind its creation, and the result is an accompanying film of the same name. The up-close chronicle of both a personal journey and a creative partnership, I Go Back Home, directed by Yoon-ha Chang, premiered last year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and has more screenings scheduled this year.
The album releases on Friday, on Eden River Records.