Q & A: Matt Roberts of 3 Doors Down

May 30, 2009

Matt Roberts’ Rebirth on the Road

by Devon Wendell

I recently had a candid phone interview with 3 Doors Down’s lead guitarist, Matt Roberts. Matt was at his home in Nashville, on Matt Roberts 2a rare day off from the road. After four critically acclaimed albums and hits like “Kryptonite,” “Loser,” “Duck and Run,” “Here Without You” and “When I’m Gone,” this chart-topping, multi- platinum, award winning rock/alternative group (Brad Arnold, vocals; Matt Roberts, lead guitar; Todd Harrel, bass; Chris Henderson, rhythm guitar; and Greg Upchurch, drums) from Escatawpa, Mississippi embarked on their latest U.S tour in March, a tour which will carry them through the summer.

DW: Most of the guys in 3 Doors Down have known each other since grade school. What has held you together for so many years?

MR: Being pragmatic and having to meet obligations to our fans and the core foundation — looking outside of ourselves.

DW: In what ways do you feel the band has changed since the early days?

MR: We’re still the same group of guys, but with a lot more life experience. Most people who just stay at home may not understand that.

DW: You started out as a rock band in a small town in Mississippi. How would you categorize the band’s music today?

MR: We still just like to think of ourselves as a rock band. I don’t see us doing any other thing.

DW: Did you ever imagine, when you guys first started jamming in Escatawpa, that you would reach such a high level of success and fame?

MR: Oh, no, of course not. I can’t say I did. It’s been a process over the last ten years. At first it was a shock, but today it’s just amazing to have a career — so I see it from a different perspective now.

DW: Let’s talk about your role in the band, as lead guitarist. There’s such a rich heritage of amazing guitar players from your home state of Mississippi, especially stemming from the blues. Did any of that rub off on you growing up?

MR: Well, it’s something that’s always been there, and B.B King’s playing and story has definitely influenced me as a player, and Muddy Waters, who, of course, left Mississippi. Yeah, but it’s only in the back of my mind and not the first thing I think of. But there is something special there.

DW: But your first major influence actually came from somewhere else, didn’t i?

MR: Definitely. Jimmy Page. When I first heard him it was like, “ Wow that’s really different.”

DW: It’s interesting that the band recently recorded a rendition of Blind Faith’s “Presence Of The Lord” with the Soul Children Of Chicago on the compilation Oh Happy Day (EMI Gospel). Given who the guitar player was on the original version – Eric Clapton — did this have any special significance for you as a player?

MR: Yeah, it was an honor, and great to go back and capture that vintage sound and those riffs. We tried to be true to the original and really listened to that record.

DW: Which of the band’s tracks do you feel displays your best guitar work?

MR: Well, I’d have to say “Dangerous Game” from the album Away From the Sun (Universal 2002), because it’s an elaborate piece and rhythmically well structured, though it’s not one of my overall favorite tracks that we’ve done.

DW: So many lead rock guitarists are very dominating. Have you ever found it difficult to play a more subordinate or subtle role in the group?

MR: I have an overall engaging presence and play a proud dominating role, not just as a guitar player but as a composer, working on the tracks from the ground up with the band.

DW: Do you remember the first guitar you ever owned?

MR: Sure. A Harmony electric from Service Merchandise, which was like a Sears store. It was a real cheapy guitar, and I was 9 years old.

DW: So you started collecting early. Are you still collecting?

MR: I have a pretty nice collection — a ’57 custom Les Paul and some others worth a few coins, but without going too overboard.

DW: And on the gig — what do you play now? What’s your set-up?

MR: All Ibanez guitars — who I’m endorsed by. I go for just a big modern heavy sound. My clean channel is great and non-brittle. I use Genz Benz amps, which supports both clean and heavy tones.

DW: What about other influences? Who do you listen to?

MR: Pretty much just guitars, though I do love all instruments. Guitar is my main thing. But I feel that there’s not that many guitar-oriented bands today like there once were. As far as virtuosos, Joe Satriani is definitely one I listen to.

DW: The band’s been together nearly 15 years now, and you guys are true road warriors, traveling a lot. Do you still enjoy life on the road?

MR: Yeah, but sometimes you’d like to just go home for a few days.

DW: Do you have time to listen to music – other than your own?

MR: I usually don’t listen to much music on the road because of the hectic schedule. It’s constant get up and go, so there’s not a lot of time. But at home I try to play catch up and listen to stuff like Derek & The Dominoes, and Zeppelin – a lot of classic rock.

DW: Do you ever get the feelings of homesickness on the road that are so well depicted on your tune, “Here Without You”?

MR: It does get tough and grueling after so many years, but the realization of “Wow I’m still doing this?” is like a rebirth.

DW: Thank you so much, Matt. Enjoy your day off and the best of luck on the rest of the tour.


Live Pop: Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon at the El Rey

May 28, 2009
markkozelek

Mark Kozelek

By Dave Gebroe

Small caveat: if Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek had spent the duration of Wednesday night’s El Rey performance passing gas, chances are I would have doubled over in fawning supplication. Yes, I am a fan. That being said, I am truly happy I didn’t have to settle for what surely would have been an avant-garde and rather unpleasant method of communicating his bleak world view.

This was a truly respectful, heckler-free crowd. Opener Mia Doi Todd set the tone of morose navel-gazing, and you could cut the solemnity with a butter knife. (Sample lyric: “All of creation is here in my kitchen / soup is on.”) Her mopey tunes of hippie housewife servitude made Vashti Bunyan sound more joyous than “Weird “Al Yankovic.

But Mia did what all good warm-up acts do: she established the mood, but left the crowd wanting for some good songs. From the word go, a thick, hazy gauze of sullen reverb hung over Sun Kil Moon’s performance like a narcotic cloud. Eyes closed, his between-song patter at a bare minimum, Mark Kozelek delivered. This was bare-bones, meat-and-potatoes heartbreak, an intimate, ghostly litany of long-ago people and places conveyed inimitably in Kozelek’s grief-stricken croon. The opener, “Glenn Tipton,” which gradually integrated gentle harmonies and slide guitar into the mix, set the bar high, and by the time he submerged “Last Tide” in a rolling burble of shimmering chimes, three tunes in, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

In a perfectly spot-on Kozlek-esque use of show dynamics, the performance seemed not so much to reach a conclusion as to simply drift to a close. The last half of the encore was just him and his guitar, amiably and cavalierly doing what he does best — basking in soul-bearing heartbreak to the delight of those of us that like that sort of thing.

It’s true — you either love this band, or you most assuredly do not. I do (in fact, Ghosts Of The Great Highway is my favorite album of the millennium thus far), and I cannot think of a better way to spend an idle fifteen minutes than standing amidst an audience of entranced, swaying hipsters in thrall to “Duk Koo Kim.” And if you’re feeling glum, you might want to consider doing the same.


Quotation of the Week: James Taylor

May 28, 2009

James Taylor

I would advise you to keep your overhead down; avoid a major drug habit; play every day, and take it in front of other people. They need to hear it, and you need them to hear it.

James Taylor


CD – Jazz Review: Bebo and Chucho Valdes

May 28, 2009

Bebo Valdés / Chucho Valdés

“Juntos Para Siempre” (Sony Music Latin- Calle 54 Records)

By Fernando Gonzalez

For years, when his name was mentioned at all, Ramon “Bebo” Valdés was merely a footnote in popular music history: the father of Cuban pianist, composer, and arranger Jesús “Chucho” Valdés, a solo artist and director of the Afro-Cuban jazz fusion group Irakere. But, as time revealed, Valdés Sr. was himself an exceptional artist with a remarkable story.Valdes CD

As the house pianist, bandleader and music consultant at Havana’s fabled Tropicana nightclub at an era many consider the Golden Age of Cuban music, Bebo Valdés wrote arrangements for such top Cuban singers and entertainers as Beny Moré, Pio Leyva, Rita Montaner and Rolando La Serie. He accompanied visiting stars like Nat “King” Cole (for whom he wrote the orchestrations for his Cole Español album); composed for films, and had his own commercial hits. In 1952, he led an all-star session for producer Norman Granz that captured — for the first time on record — a descarga, or Cuban jam session.

In 1959 Bebo Valdés formed the fabled Sabor de Cuba orchestra, featuring singer Rolando La Serie. But then came the Revolution, and Valdés found himself “chased” (as he once put it), from job to job. So with the tapes of two freshly recorded sessions of his band under his arm as his savings, he left for Mexico. He stayed there for 18 months, then moved to Spain, and worked in Europe until, while on a tour in Sweden, he fell in love with an 18-year old local beauty and decided to marry, settle down, and raise a family. He remained active, but in time, his family´s needs prevailed over the demands of a music career and he accepted jobs as a lounge pianist on cruise ships and, later, in Stockholm hotels. In 1990, he retired.

It was Cuban saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera – who remembers being a kid in short pants when he first met Bebo — who called Valdés in 1994, trying to entice him back to the piano and into the recording studio. The resulting Bebo Rides Again (Messidor, reissued by Pimienta, 2004) featured eight new original pieces written and arranged by Valdés, reportedly in a mere 36 hours. When Bebo Rides Again unexpectedly won a Grammy, it launched a new chapter in his career.  Since then, Bebo Valdés, now 90, has won another Grammy and five Latin Grammys.

Jesus Dionisio “Chucho” Valdés, 67, is Bebo´s son from his first family. Since exploding on to the jazz scene in the late 70s as the leader, pianist and main composer and arranger of Irakere, Chucho has developed a very active, and very successful, solo career. He is widely respected as one of the premier jazz pianists in world.

But Chucho lives in Havana, and Bebo has sworn to not return to Cuba as long as Fidel Castro´s regime remains in power. As a result, father and son did not see each other for many years. They finally met again backstage at Carnegie Hall, in New York City, in 1978. Chucho was appearing with Irakere and Bebo flew in from Stockholm for the occasion. But even after the senior Valdés became active again in music, and the opportunities for father and son to meet outside Cuba improved, bridging family history, years and distance, took some time.

Saga Valdés 02

Chucho, Bebo and Chucho's daughter, Leyanis, at the Son Latinos Canarias Festival in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 2003

Eventually, they did begin to play together — a joint performance on D´Rivera´s Cuba Jazz 90 Miles from Cuba, in 1995; a tantalizing duet in the Latin jazz film Calle 54 (2000) by Spanish Oscar winning filmmaker Fernando Trueba, and live appearances such as the one at the Son Latinos Canarias Festival in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, in 2003. Whatever distance and differences may have existed, Bebo and Chucho have grown close in recent years. Theirs has become, as producer Nat Chediak puts it, “a love story.”

Bebo & Chucho: Juntos Para Siempre, their first full recording together, sounds like a natural culmination of their renewed relationship.

As might be expected, given the players and the circumstances, it is a very rich, highly charged session. This is not your off-the-shelf father-and-son get together. Personal history aside, these are both extraordinary artists who are successful in their own right. And while there might have been a lot of love in the air in that studio – and some of it can be heard explicitly in Chucho’s passionate “Preludio para Bebo,” and Bebo’s “A Chucho,” a playful tribute with a gentle danzón sway — these are also two proud musicians who are not about to be topped by anyone, much less while sitting at the piano playing this repertoire.

The set also includes Cuban classics (such as Osvaldo Farre’s “Tres Palabras,” and Miguel Matamoros’ “Son de La Loma,” and “Lágrimas Negras”); jazz standards (“Tea for Two,” “Perdido”); “Rareza del Siglo” (Bebo’s first big hit in the 1940s); and a joint improvisation or “descarga.”

The playing throughout is consistently virtuosic, exuberant, and — reflecting their personalities — often mischievous. (“Tea for Two” gets a playful rope-skipping rhythmic treatment that belies the cleverness of the arrangement) Bebo and Chucho sound solidly supportive of each other in every way, changing roles generously, smoothly and effectively, now playing the lead, improvising long, curling single-note runs, now accompanying discreetly, making room for the other one’s flights of fancy. Listen for example their reading of “Son de la Loma” or the seamless back and forth in “La Gloria ..” and “Lágrimas Negras.”

Also, these are not only top notch players (and Bebo, especially, is a living repository of Cuban popular music tradition), but also astute arrangers, composers and bandleaders. So while their approach to the instrument is highly pianistic – and then lushly, romantically so – in their playing in Juntos Para Siempre they often suggest a small orchestra. Listen to Chucho´s accompaniment behind Bebo’s melody in Jose Antonio Méndez’s “La Gloria Eres Tú,” or the arrangement of Juan Tizol’s “Perdido,” detailed with clever bass lines, counterlines and punchy voicings just waiting for a horn section to show up.

Part family portrait, part piano extravaganza, part music history lesson, Juntos Para Siempre is, most of all, a damn fine good time.


Picks of the Week: May 26 – 31

May 26, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- May 26. (Tues.) Austin Peralta. He’s still a teen-ager, but pianist Peralta has already established his credentials as one of the hot, new jazz up and comers. The Jazz Bakery. (310) 271-9039.

- May 27 – 30. (Wed. – Sat.) Scott Colley, Brian Blade, Ralph Alessi and Kevin Hays. The Jazz Bakery’s last week at its Helms Bakery location spotlights yet another of the world-class ensembles that have been featured at the venue over the past sixteen years. Keep checking the Bakery’s website (as well as here) for information about the new, West L.A. location. The Jazz Bakery. (310) 271-9039.

karrin_allyson_2l

Karrin Allyson

- May 28 – May 31. (Thurs. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson. The always-musical, always-fascinating Allyson’s career CD retrospective, “By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson” will be released on Concord in late June. But Allyson’s too musically curious to ever rest on past laurels, so expect to hear something old, something new, something swinging, something blue. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- May 28 – June 2. (Thurs. – Tues.) Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz. Five days of showcase performances by ensembles from the UCLA School of Music. Scheduled world groups include ensembles performing the music of West Africa, Korea, Brazil, China, the Balkans and Bluegrass. Jazz groups included are the UCLA Jazz Combos, directed by Kenny Burrell, George Bohanon, Clayton Cameron, Charles Owens, Michele Weir and Charley Harrison, the UCLA Jazz Orchestra.(directed by Harrison), the UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble directed by Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, and the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble directed by Burrell and James Newton. All events are free to the public. Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz. Schoenberg Hall. UCLA. (310) 206-3033.

Bill Henderson

Bill Henderson

- May 29. (Fri.) Bill Henderson with the John Heard Trio (bassist Heard, pianist Llew Matthews, drummer Roy McCurdy). Henderson’s captivating style – moving easily from smooth balladry to easygoing blues — is one of the pleasures within the too-narrow field of male jazz vocalizing. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- May 29. (Fri.) “Salute to Ella Fitzgerald.” Paul Smith, who was Fitzgerald’s pianist and music director for 22 years, is joined by vocalist Sherry Williams, bassist Jim De Julio and drummer Frank Capp in a tribute to the First Lady of Song. The “Culver Club” for Jazz at the Radisson West Side. (310) 649-1776.

- May 30. (Sat.) The Refugees. Cindy Bullens, Deborah Holland and Wendy Waldman apply their unique individual styles to an appealing combination of folk and country sounds. The Getty. (310) 440-7300. .

- May 30. (Sat.) Chris Botti. Trumpeter Botti is setting all kinds of records in CD sales, concert attendance and across the board audiences. And he’s doing it with jazz credentials that are even more impressive than his soaring popularity. The Cerritos Center. (562)467-8818.

- May 30 (Sat.) George Benson applies his smooth-toned vocals and inimitable guitar work to “An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole.” Segerstrom Hall.  Orange County Performing Arts Center. (714) 556-2787.

- May 31. (Sun.) Jennifer Leitham Trio. The left-handed bassist and vocalist steps into the spotlight at one of the Southland’s legendary jazz spots. The Lighthouse Café. (310) 276-9833.

San Francisco

- May 29. (Fri.) Roy Hargrove & James Carter. The San Francisco Jazz Festival’s “Sacred Space” concerts in Grace Cathedral are remarkable events. Improvisers are presented with a large environment containing extraordinary acoustic qualities and a long reverberation delay. The challenge has produced some remarkable performances over the years, and Hargrove and Carter – each richly creative in his own way – will undoubtedly accept the challenge in their usual imaginative fashion. SFJAZZ. (415) 398-5655.

Healdsburg, CA

Highlight: May 29 – June 7. (Fri. – Sun.).

The 11th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival esperanzakicks off a two week-plus run with an opening night performance on Friday night by guitarist Julian Lage’s group, a “Jazz and Wine Pairing” on Saturday afternoon with the Greg Hester Trio, the Esperanza Spalding Quartet on Saturday night, and an impressive “Stars of Brazil” presentation on Sunday night featuring the Trio Da Paz, Toninho Horta, Airto Moreira, Leny Andrade, and others. At locations around Healdsburg, in the heart of the Sonoma wine country. The Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (707) 433-4644.

New York City

- May 28. (Thurs.) Cecil Taylor. There isn’t an abundance of opportunities to hear pianist Taylor – one of the iconic figures of the transitional jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s – in action. And he’s still adventuring into new territories, so don’t miss this one. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

- May 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.) “Miles From India.” Bob Belden’s remarkable re-imagining of selections from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” “In A Miles From India CDSilent Way” and “Bitches Brew” in a cross-genre recording incorporating elements of classical Indian music is filled with challenging musical encounters. It’s presented live here (during the week of Miles’ 83rd birthday), in a performance with a stellar ensemble that includes trumpeter Nicholas Payton, saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bill Evans and Dave Liebman, keyboardist John Beasley, bassist Victor Bailey, guitarist Pete Cosey, drummers Lenny White, Ndugu Chancler and Vince Wilburn, tabla player Badal Roy and Indian musician/singers Hidayat Khan and V.K. Raman. The Iridium. (212) 582-2121.

- May 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Turre fronts a world class sextet, with saxophonist Ron Blake, trumpter Christian Scott, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ignacio Berroa. Hopefully, trombonist Turre will also include his atmospheric conch shell sounds, as well. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2561.

- May 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.) Frank Sinatra Jr.:”Sinatra Sings Sinatra.” Nobody sounds more like Sinatra, Sr. than Sinatra, Jr. Although he’s sometimes been reluctant to replicate his father’s performances, hearing him perform some of the great classics of American popular song has to be considered an honor, a tribute, and an incomparable experience for his lucky audiences. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Puerto Rico

Highlight: May 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sunday).

eddie_palmieriThe Heineken JazzFest 2009. Latin jazz, in all its many colorful manifestations is in the spotlight for this stirring, four day Caribbean celebration. The headliners include the Jack DeJohnette/Danilo Perez/John Patitucci ensemble, Eddie Palmieri’s Afro Caribbean Jazz Octet, Oscar Castro-Neves with “50 Years of Bossa Nova,” Conrad Herwig’s “Latin Side” with special guest Eddie Palmieri, and master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo’s “Silver Gold.” The Heineken JazzFest 2009. At the Tito Puente Amphitheatre in San Juan. (787) 791-6100.

Boston

- May 27. (Wed.) Tom Harrell Quintet. The adventurous trumpeter celebrates the release of his new CD, “Prana Dance” with a group that includes saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jonathan Blake. Regatta Bar. (617) 395-7757.

Charleston, South Carolina

- May 26. (Tues.) Buxtehude and Bach at the Spoleto Festival. J.S. Bach allegedly once took a 200 mile hike to hear the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. The Westminster Choir and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Megili offer a rare opportunity to hear what it was that fascinated Bach, in a performance of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle, Membra Jesu Nostri. And to keep everything in balance, they also present Bach’s Easter cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden. The Spoleto Festival. (843) 579-3100.

Chicago

- May 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.) Eldar Trio. Once a child jazz prodigy, the Kyrgyzstan-born pianist Eldar Djangirov has matured into a cutting edge improviser with the technique of a virtuoso. Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

Seattle

- May 28 – 30. (Thurs. – Sat.) Trio Da Paz. triodapaz1It would be hard to imagine a better Brazilian jazz grouping than the line-up of guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. Together for nearly two decades, they offer a masterful overview of the rich, deep linkages between jazz and Brazilian music. Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.


Live – Jazz: The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble at the Jazz Bakery

May 24, 2009

By Don Heckman

Billy-3-For-Don

Billy Childs

The countdown to the conclusion of the Jazz Bakery’s 16 year run in its Helms Bakery location continued Friday night with a performance typifying the venue’s consistently high quality programming. The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble — with pianist Childs, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Scott Colley, harpist Carol Robbins, saxophonist/flutist Bob Sheppard and drummer Antonio Sanchez, accompanied on several pieces by the Ying String Quartet — presented an evening of impressive works by the Guggenheim Award-winning Childs.

The program was, in effect, a live rehearsal for an upcoming recording — a follow-up to Childs’ Grammy-nominated “Lyric, Jazz Chamber Music, No. 1″ (which also was a Grammy winner for the composition, “Into the Light” ). But, although the music was often difficult, with frequent unlikely twists and turns, the playing flowed with surprisingly coherent togetherness. The first few pieces featured the Chamber Ensemble in Child’s arrangement — although “re-composition” would be a better description — of Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby,” an as yet unnamed composition, inspired, Childs said, by the seasonal changes of color in rural upstate New York, and the lyrical “Autumn Song,” for piano, guitar and bass.

Childs and Quartet(2)

The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble and the Ying Quartet

“I like,” Childs added, “to create visual images.” And it wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe Child’s compositional style as contemporary impressionism, in this case with an autumnal theme that resonated through most of the music, and especially in the original compositions. One could not always make the same observation about Childs’ soloing, which — with its extraordinary technical fluency — sometimes surfaced with a powerful harmonic intensity seemingly at odds with the subtly woven, inner movement of the composed passages. He was at his best, in fact, when — as in “Autumn Song” — his improvisational imagination was more finely in tune with both the theme and the concept of the work.

Despite the occasional out of sync moments between solo and written passages, however, there was nothing to complain about in the totality of what Childs had to offer. And the broad scope of his creative drive became fully apparent in his works for the combined Chamber Ensemble and Ying Quartet. Many jazz-oriented composers will tend to visualize a saxophone section when scoring for a string quartet. Not Childs, whose craft mastery, multi-layered contrapuntal writing and fascination with textural timbres were present in both the original works and the re-imagined arrangements. And the Ying players grasping his intentions with symbiotic attentiveness, brought the music to life via their utterly empathic togetherness.

Another Childs original, “Path Among the Trees,” and the Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman classic, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” were high points of the program, each providing showcase segments for each of the ensemble groupings, as well as opportunities for Koonse and Sheppard to display their world class improvisational wares.

Child’s determination to follow his own creative pathway is not without its uncertainties. But the results — which are clearly worth the effort — will be evident when the new recording (“Volume 2″) by the Jazz Chamber Ensemble and the Ying Quartet is released, hopefully by the end of the year.

The Billy Childs Chamber Ensemble and the Ying Quartet perform again tonight (Sunday, May 24) at the Jazz Bakery.

Photos by Bobby Colomby


CD – Jazz: The Crimson Jazz Trio

May 21, 2009

“The King Crimson Songbook Volume 2″ (Inner Knot)

By Fernando Gonzalez

Standards in jazz have become what they are, in part because of their harmonic and melodic possibilities, but also because of the shared language they represent between players and audiences. Only when both are familiar with the music — be it a Cole Porter song, “Someday My Prince Will Come” or “My Favorite Things” – does the dialog between improvisers and listeners (and the understanding of the art and craft of improvisation) truly take place and flourish. And so, for the past 25 years, jazz musicians have been looking to remain in touch with their audiences by updating the repertoire — with various degrees of success. Consider Miles Davis’s remake of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Herbie Hancock’s take on Kurt Cobain’s “All Apologies,” or more recently, and most notably, the efforts by Brad Mehldau or The Bad Plus.

The Crimson Jazz Trio, on the other hand, is Crimson Jazz Trioa jazz group specifically created to explore a rock group’s repertoire (the art-rock cult band King Crimson) with a jazz sensibility. It’s an intriguing proposition with some obvious challenges.

Formed in 1969 and still somewhat active, the original King Crimson has been reassembled from time to time, featuring different lineups, by its guitarist, composer, and creative mastermind, Robert Fripp. But even as it changed members and instrumentation over the years, King Crimson consistently informed its music with elements of rock, European classical music and jazz. Still, the changes in the sound of its music over those decades might have given even some brave souls pause — but they didn’t seem to faze the Crimson Jazz Trio.

Led by drummer Ian Wallace, a King Crimson alumnus (1971- 1972, appearing on “Islands”), and featuring Jody Nardone, piano, and Tim Landers, bass, the Crimson Jazz Trio (or CJ3) began by approaching the music not as a tribute project (something Nardone explicitly address in his notes) but rather, as a true re-imagining of the material. The group’s first album, “King Crimson Songbook Volume One” (Voiceprint, 2005), brimmed with an insight, imagination and why-not? attitude usually missing in other rock-to-jazz reinterpretations. And oh yes, by the way, it was a very rewarding jazz record.

Sadly, Wallace died in February 2007, but not before recording a Volume 2. To the Trio’s credit, they took the concept even further. Volume 2 offers a mostly instrumental set (all but one song), drawn from Crimson’s book going back as far back as “The Court of the Crimson King” (1969), and “In The Wake of The Poseidon” (1970) and up to “THRAK” (1995). The CD also includes original contributions, brief solo pieces, by Wallace, Nardone and Landers as part of an “Islands Suite.”

Throughout, the trio manages to convey the elegant design and brilliant neurosis of Crimson’s music, while also offering surprising alternative readings, finding hidden melodies, and blowing up small rhythmic gestures from the originals into fresh grooves.

No doubt, this in part reflects the range and musicianship of Wallace who, in his life after his King Crimson tenure, became a busy studio hand and sideman while holding on to his love of jazz. He sounds at ease and in control here at every turn.

The trio seems to mock the faux majesty of “The Court of the Crimson King” by arranging it instead as a playful, high-energy, Latin-tinged piece — a king’s court set not so much in royal crimson as in a warm Caribbean mango-orange. “Inner Garden” gets a smart rethinking that turns the almost morbid original into a luminous, open-faced ballad. (Extra credit here to pianist Nardone whose voice and delivery sound not just expressive and effective but, well, Crimsonian.) “Frame by Frame,” from “Discipline,” (1981), features another Crimson alumnus, saxophonist Mel Collins, and emerges as a hard swinging post-bop piece. And “Pictures of a City,” from “In The Wake of the Poseidon” (1970), smoothly alternates a sort of heavy metal rock jazz (those doubled lines) with driving swing, down to the almost-sinister ending.

Still, you don’t need to know the originals to enjoy “King Crimson Songbook Volume 2.” This is, after all, a jazz record and it works as such. Still, perhaps one of CJ3’s most obvious contributions will be to work as both a window for jazz musicians and fans into the music of King Crimson, while serving as an introduction and enticement to jazz for fans of Crimson and art rock in general.

And if you are already a fan of both, you’ll probably find yourself smiling, nodding in recognition at the smarts and musicianship of these players – just what listeners 40, 50 years ago must have felt when they heard their Cole Porter songs or their favorite Broadway tunes turned into jazz standards. Aging has its privileges.


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