Jeff Goldblum was so preoccupied with whether he could release a jazz album that he didn’t stop to think if he should. Good. Great. Fine. Abstract notions of should have gotten him nowhere; his cheerful rejection of typical Leading Man propriety and blandness has gotten him everywhere. May the lord bless and keep this dude, this low-key superstar actor and high-key spectacular content generator, this debonaire goofball, this rakish silver fox, this walking Old Spice commercial of erotic whimsy. This is a guy who never forgets his mantra.
One nonetheless approaches this week’s The Capitol Studios Sessions, the debut album from Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, with great caution. There’s our beautiful boy standing alone on the cover, lookin’ suave and Swingin’; those unfamiliar with his long-running jazz sideline may fear this is yet another kitschy prank, an ersatz-Sinatra sorta thing, a wayward golden-voice pantomime in the grim tradition of Seth MacFarlane or Joe Pesci. But cue up Track 1, luxuriate in the soulful groove of the old Herbie Hancock chestnut “Cantaloupe Island” (confidential to all you ’90s kids: biddy biddy bop), and take solace in the fact that this is a collegial full-band effort. And it’s not immediately clear, via the music alone, which member of this band once hacked an alien spaceship in Independence Day.
Goldblum plays piano. When, at 17 years of age, he first fled his ancestral homeland of West Homestead, Pennsylvania, he landed in New York City with both actorly and musical aspirations. It just so happens that he nailed his first acting audition, for 1974’s Death Wish, winning the coveted role of “Freak #1.” (Think Adam Driver’s bug-eyed menace, just with way less muscle tone.) Long before he became an object of intense internet fascination, a loopy muse for knuckleheaded memes and myriad tattoos and at least one giant statue in London, he was an oft-fleeting but alarmingly vivid presence in big movies with prestige directors. Goldblum is like Gritty the lovable hockey mascot and blank ideological canvas, except if Gritty had worked with Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Roland Emmerich, Lawrence Kasdan, Wes Anderson, and Steven Spielberg.
“You want the movie to turn out swell,” is how Goldblum summarizes his career philosophy, his preference in collaborators, his acquired-taste sensibility, the magnetism that has made him so irresistible in the eyes of directors and rapt audiences alike. David Cronenberg’s marvelously gross 1986 horror flick The Fly made our wiry hero something of a leading man; it also, decades later, inspired the classic meme Jeff Goldblum Is Watching You Poop.
So let the guy play piano if he wants to play piano. As a live spectacle, Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra—named, apparently, after one of his mother’s friends—has been a thing for 20 years or so, primarily in New York City and Los Angeles. Live footage suggests there is indeed a kitschy oh-what-the-hell quality to this, but there is some quiet excellence here too, or at least some loud competence. Here we have Goldblum flirting with former American Idol contestant Haley Reinhart as she coos through “My Baby Just Cares for Me”; he pulls some Silly Actor faces, but also some Serious Jazzman faces.
That tune might be the high point of The Capitol Studios Sessions, or at least the ideal balance between taking this excursion at least a little seriously versus not taking it seriously at all. The instrumental jams—particularly a lovely slo-mo whirl through the 1940 showtune “It Never Entered My Mind,” with stately Goldblum arpeggios unlikely to scandalize fans of either Miles Davis or Runaway Bride—are fine. Good. Great, even, if you want to grade them on a curve, and why wouldn’t you? And when he hops on the mic for more flirting—with Reinhart, or the Irish rockabilly ingenue Imelda May, or (why not) Sarah Silverman—you get the alluringly ridiculous Jeff Goldblum experience you crave.
Silverman’s guest spot probably gets closest to what you might’ve imagined, had you ever bothered to imagine a Jeff Goldblum jazz album. A long-winded flirty intro leads into the actual ersatz-Sinatra corn of “Me and My Shadow,” complete with a snippet of the Jurassic Park score and Goldblum’s velociraptor impression. It’s rough going, but the live audience—loose and liquored up and ready for some antics—whoops all the way through it. Nobody wants this guy to act dignified all the time, or even 20 percent of the time. Goldblum is a screwball lion in winter, a 66-year-old and relatively new father whose good buddy Albert Brooks offered the older-parenting advice “look for schools with ramps.” He reached this hallowed status by doing pretty much whatever the hell he wanted, and it is only natural, at this stage, that he might feel inclined to do even more of it.
So maybe you flinch for a second when The Capitol Studios Sessions winds down with Goldblum indeed getting a little abstract and show-off-ish on “Caravan,” treating Duke Ellington like just one more artistic heavyweight to improbably tango with. It is entirely unnecessary, but necessary is not so useful a notion to this singular and probably irreplaceable human. He is not the future of jazz, or the past, or the present. But he makes it make sense. And contrary to what Dr. Ian Malcolm thinks, the charismatic power he’s wielding here took quite a bit of discipline to attain.