Now here’s a neat idea: Give kids an entry-level introduction to jazz by taking them on a journey through some of its many permutations, from New Orleans to bebop to fusion, explaining (and demonstrating) the differences along the way. It’s an education that I’d guess many adults could use, and a fun way of clearing up a lot of the misconceptions that surround the music.
Unfortunately, the execution is the problem with Stellar Jazz Safari. Made in the Shade is clearly a solid band, and it’s a genuine pleasure to hear real jazz this cleanly produced, but they’ve taken a perfectly serviceable concept and smothered it in things it doesn’t need — like talking animal characters, annoyingly hammy narration, and sending the storyline into space for some odd reason. The between-song bits — and there are a lot of them — should help explain the music, and they do, but they also detract from what could have been a really enjoyable listening experience, primarily because they’re so corny. (Your leader on the safari is the trumpet-wielding Shader Gator; by the fifth or sixth track, I was having visions of turning him into a jacket.)
Is it terrible? Certainly not. It’s just hard not to wish that Made in the Shade had broadened its focus a little — Stellar Jazz Safari could have been fun for the whole family, but as it is, its strongest appeal will be to younger kids who are interested in learning more about jazz, and they don’t need pandering. On the band’s next safari, they should relax a little, and trust the music to do more of the talking.