Josh Roseman's new jazz standards
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by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 21, 2002) – Jazz has always looked to popular music for melodic inspiration. For years Tin Pan Alley compositions, Broadway show tunes, New Orleans blues and movie music were the raw material that jazz musicians used to sculpt their new, in-the-moment compositions.
Somewhere along the way, mainstream jazz stopped looking outside of itself for melodies – and as a result, people stopped listening and dancing. But somewhat ironically, the avant-garde has always kept the pulse of the popular, with performers like the late Sun Ra and the late Lester Bowie who kept jazz fresh and contemporary by using pop as a launching point for improvisation and innovation.
Fortunately a few bands carry on this tradition, including Sex Mob, which has performed twice in the Berkshires in the last year. The Josh Roseman Unit is another band in this vein, and on the group’s debut CD, Cherry (Knitting Factory) it plays funky, adventurous, jazzy versions of rock songs by the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, Burt Bacharach and Nirvana – really, the new standards of today.
Cherry features guest performances by keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Joey Baron, and Lester Bowie himself – some of the last notes he laid down before his death. But Roseman himself brings a ton of experience to the bandstand. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, as a co-founder of Groove Collective and the Brooklyn Funk Essentials and as a bandmate of Don Byron, Me’Shell NdegeOcello, Lester Bowie, Uri Caine, John Zorn and Dave Douglas. He also has worked with Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto, Brian McKnight and the Roots.
In addition to rock songs including “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Kashmir” and “If I Fell” – some twisted almost beyond recognition -- Cherry also includes three Sun Ra compositions and three Roseman originals. Roseman brings his experimental party band to Club Helsinki (528-3394) on Saturday night.
Hod O’Brien: Jazz homecoming
It will be a homecoming of sorts on Saturday night at the Castle Street Café in Great Barrington (528-5244), when bebop jazz pianist Hod O’Brien performs with vocalist Stephanie Nakasian. A native of nearby Lakeville, Conn., O’Brien got his first break in the music business in the late-1950s when, barely out of his teens, he had a “trial by fire” gig subbing for Randy Weston at Lenox’s famed Avaloch, during the heyday of the nearby Music Inn.
From there, O’Brien gigged steadily with J.R. Monterose at the Gaiety (later Greene Street) in Albany, N.Y. By the age of 21, O’Brien was jamming in New York’s loft scene with the likes of Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford and Stan Getz, performing at clubs like Birdland, the Continental, the Black Pearl and Small’s Paradise, and recording with Art Farmer, Donald Byrd and Idress Sulieman on the classic Three Trumpets album.
O’Brien took a hiatus from jazz from 1963 to 1973, during which he time he earned a degree in mathematics at Columbia University. But music lured him back in the mid-‘70s when he opened his own club, the St. James Infirmary, where he led a house band that backed up such guest artists as Chet Baker, Roswell Rudd, Lee Konitz and Zoot Sims.
In 1980, O’Brien teamed up with Nakasian, who spent two years working with Jon Hendricks and whose numerous recordings as a leader include Comin’ Alive with legendary saxophonist Phil Woods. Since then, the duo -- who perform in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson and who in real life are husband and wife -- has toured all over the world, recording together and performing at major jazz festivals.
As heard on his recent recording, So That’s How It Is (Reservoir), a trio album with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Kenny Washington, O’Brien plays in the classic bebop style, with long lines of improvised notes. Jazz writer Nat Hentoff calls him “a long distance swinger.”
The blues apparently failed to connect with audiences at Red in Pittsfield this summer, resulting in the cancellation of the remaining shows in the club’s Friday night blues series, according to club owner Gordy Hebler. In September, Hebler is betting on an Eighties revival to bring audiences into its underground nightclub, with former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay on September 20, and progressive-rock group Ambrosia, in an unplugged format, on September 27.
The ‘80s just might be the next big thing, or even the ‘70s. The major arena tours this fall include the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond and the dynamic duo of Elton John and Billy Joel, the latter presumably clean and sober after a recent stint in a rehabilitation facility.
For some people, the best thing about the 1980s was a band called the Replacements out of Minnesota. Post-punk and pre-grunge, the Replacements could well have been the most influential band of that decade – in retrospect, the Velvet Underground of the ‘80s, in the sense that few heard them, but everyone who did was forever altered in some way by the experience. Replacements’ frontman Paul Westerberg is at Pearl Street in Northampton on Saturday night.
“Ludo Luda/Fools Fancy” (Arhoolie)
The German/Dutch string quartet Csókolom brings a cosmopolitan approach to playing the music of “Greater Transylvania,” as the liner notes call the group’s blend of Gypsy, Hungarian, Romanian and other Balkan and Eastern European musics. It’s an approach traditional enough to limit the instrumentation to three squeaky, scratchy violins and one double bass, but open-minded enough to find the hidden Gypsy heart inside Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme,” which the group humorously works into an otherwise all-traditional medley of Hungarian folk songs on this terrific live recording. [8/4]
The Alexandria Kleztet
“Delusions of Klezmer” (Kleztet)
In its expansive fusion of traditional klezmer melodies and new Jewish compositions with a host of influences including classical, world, jam-rock and jazz, the Alexandria Quartet could well be the Flecktones of klezmer. In lesser hands, this could be a formula for disaster, but this Washington D.C.-based quartet builds its fusion on a solid foundation of core repertoire and authentic technique. Klezmatics, look out! [8/4/02]
The Coma Savants
“Coma Savant” (Uvulittle)
Kurt Weill meets Captain Beefheart on this debut by Madison, Wisc., quartet Coma Savants. This album kicks off with a bit of lounge jazz featuring lead singer-songwriter Stephanie Rearick’s vocals backward-tracked, a hint of the weird, David Lynch-like world portrayed in Rearick’s self-described “circus-prog-cabaret-rock” songs about criminals, misfits and people whose houses don’t exist on any map. Rearick unleashes her vocals with freewheeling abandon to match the instrumental inventiveness of guitarist Jon Hain and her own free-jazz keyboards and trumpets.[8/11]
“Ten Thousand Mornings” (Signature Sounds)
Singer-songwriter went back underground to get in touch with his roots, to a Boston T-station, brought along a portable recording studio, and came out with this album of pop covers by the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Paul Simon, Los Lobos, Marvin Gaye and others. An all-star cast of Boston-based folk talent joined him down there, including Chris Smither, Jennifer Kimball and Erin McKeown. The result is a folk album for the new millennium – after all, what’s more folk than the Beatles played in a subway? [8/11/02]
“A Life I Never Had” (Bad Moock Rising)
Singer-songwriter Alastair Moock sings like a cross between Dave van Ronk and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and writes timeless, impossibly rootsy folk songs like “The Bottom of a River” that sound like Tom Waits crashed Bob Dylan’s recording session for “Time Out of Mind.” On his third album, the Williams College alumnus is joined by Ellis Paul, Mark Erelli, Tracy Grammer and the late Dave Carter on 10 originals and songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie and John Prine. That’s illustrious company, but if Moock keeps writing songs like “Nothing in This World,” he just might find himself swapping licks with folks like that in eternity. [8/18]
Mary Lee’s Corvette
“Blood on the Tracks” (Bar None)
It’s an utterly thankless premise: to recreate Bob Dylan’s entire classic album by the same name, live and in order and with pretty much the exact same instrumentation as the original. Why? One listen to this disk and why is made clear. The songs on Blood on the Tracks work together like a movie for the listener, and like a liturgy for the performer. Singer Mary Lee Kortes works through the heartbreak of “You’re a Big Girl Now,” the raging glory of “Idiot Wind,” and all the rest with just the right amount of homage to Dylan’s inimitable sneer while bringing her own demons to bear. Ultimately, it’s a worthy celebration of one of the greatest song-cycles in history. [8/18/02]
Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:
1. Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” (Columbia)
2. Alastair Moock, “A Life I Never Had” (Bad Moock Rising)
3. The Coma Savants, “Coma Savants” (Uvulittle)
4. Wolf Krakowski, “Goyrl: Destiny” (Tzadik)
5. Pharaoh’s Daughter, “Exile” (Knitting Factory)
6. Jen Chapin/Stephan Crump, “Open Wide” (Purple Chair Music)
7. David Bowie, “Heathen” (ISO/Columbia)
8. Bang on a Can, “Renegade Heaven” (Cantaloupe)
9. Arnold Dreyblatt/The Orchestra of Excited Strings, “The Adding Machine” (Cantaloupe)
10. Ray Mason, “Three Dollar Man” (Captivating Music)
11. Various Artists, “This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies and the Kinks” (Rykodisc)
12. Chuck Prophet, “No Other Love” (New West)
13. Shea Seger, “The May Street Project” (RCA)
14. Elvis Costello, “When I Was Cruel” (Island)
15. Shannon McNally, “Jukebox Sparrows” (Capitol)
16. Gogol Bordello, “Voi-La Intruder” (Rubric)
17. Jewlia Eisenberg, “Trilectic” (Tzadik)
18. Sheryl Crow, “C’mon, C’mon” (A&M)
19. Badly Drawn Boy, “About a Boy (Original Soundtrack)” (XL/BMG)
20. Dave Douglas, “The Infinite” (Bluebird)
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 22, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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