I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation. Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it. But Neil Young? Sorry. There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.
When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.
But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness. Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here. (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)
Here’s Joe. The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:
And Joe’s website.
I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful. Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs. I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince. Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when. Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.
So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it. And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good! Who is it? Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both! I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please. Just listen to the music and tell me what you think. Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”
I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have. And then we could discuss players. “That’s Joe Policastro! What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis. He sings on his instrument. And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back. That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention. And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt. Where can I get this disc?”
Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics. I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.
This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.
For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).
This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities). There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion. No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.
POPS! is engaging inventive music. And we’ll never have too much of that.
May your happiness increase!