When Jimmy Scott died in 2014, dozens of musicians, hundreds of journalists and thousands of fans mourned the passing of a jazz legend. Not only had a link back to the era of Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton been lost, but so had the chance to bring the fame and respect denied to him throughout his long and rich life. Now, as if sent from some righteous deity, comes I Go Back Home, an album full of life recorded by Jimmy Scott years before his death. Created by German producer Ralf Kemper, Jimmy Scott and with mixes produced by Phil Ramone, no expense was spared in giving Scott the lushest musical backdrops possible, creating an album that, like Scott's inimitable vocal style, comes late but but right on time. I Go Back Home manages to replicate that using the finest arrangers writing for the most experienced players, mixed by the most intuitive engineers in the the best studios available. Scott revisited his favorite songs, into which he invested his lived experience, letting the listener feel the story known by far too few.
The creation of I Go Back Home was the subject of an acclaimed documentary of the same name. It depicts producer Ralf Kemper's drive to work with Jimmy and provide him with the best album he can. The film captures the challenges and sacrifices that lead up to the recording sessions, a document that makes I Go Back Home an even richer record. Hounding Scott through the most of his recording career was an oppressive recording contract that prevented him from releasing albums. It wasn't until 1992 that Jimmy, aged 63, recorded the first album over which he had creative control, All The Way. Nominated for a Grammy and finally bringing him to the attention of an audience that wasn't entirely comprised of jazz fans and a few lucky passers-by, Scott began touring and regularly releasing albums. It's not until I Go Back Home that Scott was given the budget that allowed him unfettered control over song selection, personnel and orchestration.
As the album progresses, each song sees another musician or singer join Scott for a fresh interpretation of a beloved song. Long-time collaborators such as Kenny Barron and Joe Pesci, or new, such as actress and singer Reneè Olstead, trumpeter Till Brönner and harmonica player Gregoire Maret. All give Scott the room he needs to slide between phrases, telling his story and living out the world of each song.As Jimmy explained: "The lyric is so important to me. I feel if you're singing a song or telling the story in a song it should mean something. That's why I protect what I have in it, because that's where I believe it should go. It should mean something. It should make sense." Scott shifts from speak-singing in album-opener ("Sometimes I Feel Like a) Motherless Child" to a lively bossa nova take on "I Remember You" to full-throated commitment on "If I Ever Lost You."
Expertly interplaying with top tier collaborators I Go Back Home is ultimately a record of collaboration and companionship, and the sound of a singer going out on top. Scott commemorates his highest points, and spars with fresh new talent in a way that suggests that he would have had great albums in him yet. And while we can mourn the decades he didn't record, the tragedies and injustices that never defeated him, I Go Back Home succeeds in capturing the essence of a life that was ultimately triumphant.