Pop star Charlie Puth breathes jazz on new album

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SINGER/SONGWRITER Charlie Puth performs at the The Peppermint Club, on April 17 in West Hollywood, California. Puth’s silky falsetto made him a global star with the pop ballad “See You Again,” but his roots, he is quick to point out, are in jazz. — AFP

LOS ANGELES — Charlie Puth’s silky falsetto made him a global star with the pop ballad “See You Again,” but his roots, he is quick to point out, are in jazz.

Puth spent a year and a half writing and revising his second album, Voicenotes, which comes out May 11 after a delay, and despite warnings that it was not commercially viable he found himself repeatedly turning to jazz.

But it’s not as if his fans will think he’s gone in a drastic new direction. Instead, Puth hears jazz in the warm chord progressions of the keyboards hidden under the pop texture.

Voicenotes — whose first single, “Attention,” is driven by a gently strummed guitar line and funky bass — harks back to the retro production of songwriters such as Babyface and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who Puth sees as heirs to the jazz tradition.

“The whole album is jazz disguised as pop music,” Puth told a news conference in Los Angeles.

“I’ve established a vibe where my music, it might lean adult in a way, but I still have 12-year-olds, teenagers, pre-teenagers — they are all singing the music.

“And that makes me the happiest guy ever because I’m secretly ‘edumacating’ them, whether they like it or not,” he said with a laugh.

Puth took up classical piano as a child and was playing jazz by age 10 before heading to study at the Manhattan School of Music.

The 26-year-old, while acknowledging he failed at transcribing music in school, has an uncanny talent for recognizing pitches. In the course of a news conference, he identified the pitch of a cocktail being shaken by a bartender in the distance of the hotel and instantly replicated on keyboard the beep of a phone.

“See You Again,” which appeared in the action film Furious 7 as a tribute to late actor Paul Walker and features rapper Wiz Khalifa, became a viral hit in 2015 and remains the second most-watched video ever on YouTube.

But Puth, whose first album Nine Track Mind also produced the hits “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Marvin Gaye,” said that Voicenotes felt more like his debut album as it was more sonically consistent.

The album title comes from the vocal notes function on his iPhone, which Puth said he constantly uses as he sings out tunes that come to his head.

He wrote the album in his parents’ home in New Jersey, saying it was important to connect with family after so much time on the road.

“It’s incredible, truly, how the more famous you get, the more alone you are,” he said.

Puth collaborated on the album with Boyz II Men, whose sound is in tune with Voicenotes, as well as the folk-rock legend James Taylor, whom Puth called a longstanding inspiration.

Puth said he would be happy to go full jazz and play with the jazz greats such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock — if they called him.

“That would be incredible,” he said.

Puth’s retro turn into 1980s and 1990s R&B comes amid the success of Bruno Mars, who borrowed liberally from the genre on his Grammy-winning last album.

Puth believed that the sound popularized by artists such as Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown still feels fresh.

“I didn’t invent this style of music. All I’m doing is the 2018, 2019 version of it,” he said. — AFP