September 23, 2014

For more than 50 years, Herb Alpert has taken classic melodies and combined them with contemporary rhythms and recording techniques in unexpected ways.

“The key to a good song is the melody, says Alpert, whose latest album, In the Mood, will come out Sept. 30 but is streaming now at USA TODAY. “I keep trying to do new things with songs and melodies I like playing.”

Alpert, 79, put his first hit, The Lonely Bull (El Solo Torro), on the pop charts back in 1962. People familiar with that single, or subsequent instrumental hits like Taste of Honey, Spanish Flea and Rise will recognize Alpert’s distinctive trumpet tone on the new album immediately. “I love playing the horn,” he says. “I play it every day. I started when i was 8.”

That would have been just a couple years after the Glenn Miller Orchestra had a hit with the original version of Chattanooga Choo Choo, the song that opens In the Mood.

True to Alpert’s form, he gives the familiar tune an unexpected but eminently listenable arrangement, built on loops provided by nephew Randy Badazz Alpert. “It’s a little bit electronic, with some jazz floating over the top of it at times,” Herb says. “Then my friend Eduardo del Barrio, who’s a musical genius, put these incredible strings on it.”

Alpert cut two tunes, Let It Be Me and All I Have to Do Is Dream, in tribute to the Everly Brothers and the late Phil Everly, who died in January. He also recorded versions of Blue Moon, Begin the Beguine, Spanish Harlem and When Sunny Gets Blue, as well as new and original tunes like Zoo Train.

Several tunes feature the vocals of Lani Hall, the former singer of Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 and Alpert’s wife of 40 years.

In the Mood closes with a version of America the Beautiful that delivers a subtle but powerful message via the use of non-indigenous percussion. The arrangement grew from a suggestion by Alpert’s drummer, Michael Shapiro. “We took percussion instruments from the seven continents of the world and meshed them together, obviously reflecting the melting pot our beautiful country is part of,” Alpert says.

In February, Alpert won a Grammy, his ninth, for his 2013 album Steppin’ Out. In the Mood is his fourth album in five years, a recording schedule that could put many younger musicians to shame.

“One of my favorite things to do is work in the studio and fool around with music and sounds,” Alpert says. At any given time, “I have probably 15 or 20 songs on my computer that I haven’t released. I try to pick out the best ones. If it’s fun for me to play, it’s going to be fun for someone else to listen to.

“That’s my premise.”