THE DOZENS: JAZZ & BJÖRK by Brad Farberman

Strangely, it has become common practice for today’s leading jazz musicians to perform and record the music of rock chanteuse Björk . Or maybe it isn’t strange: like jazz, Björk’s music is filled with tension, and mystery. And Björk herself has dabbled in jazz.

 Bjork

Hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, Björk Gudmundsdottir burst onto the international music scene in 1993 with Debut, an album featuring the jazz standard �Like Someone in Love.� Prior to that, Björk recorded Gling-Glo, an album of vocal jazz, with an Icelandic piano trio. And in 1995, she scored what is still her biggest hit with “It’s Oh So Quiet,” a rambunctious swing number first recorded by Betty Hutton in 1948, under the title “Blow a Fuse.”

What’s more, Björk has tapped various musicians from the jazz avant-garde to record on her albums. The saxophonist and BAG founder Oliver Lake appears on Debut (�Aeroplane,� �The Anchor Song�), the harpist Zeena Parkins appears on Vespertine, the drummer Chris Corsano appears on Volta (�Earth Intruders,� �I See Who You Are,� �Hope�), and frequent John Zorn vocalist Mike Patton appears on Björk �s Medulla, an album crafted almost entirely from vocals.

Below, we have twelve artists tackling twelve different tunes by Björk . It’s safe to say that the saxophonist Greg Osby, whose recording of “All Neon Like” dates back to 1999, was the first major jazz musician to record a Björk tune.


Greg Osby: All Neon Like

Track

All Neon Like

Artist

Greg Osby (alto sax)

CD

Inner Circle (Blue Note 99871)

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Musicians:

Greg Osby (alto sax), Jason Moran (piano), Tarus Mateen (bass), Eric Harland (drums).

Composed by Bjork

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Recorded: New York, April 22-23, 1999

Greg_osby--inner_circle

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Its easy to see why a jazz musician might want to tackle Bjorks All Neon Like. Consisting of little more than a sinister synth bass line, a simple electronic beat, and Bjorks haunting voice soaring overhead, All Neon Like is pretty wide opentheres a lot you can do with it. And so it became a mid-tempo burner for the alto saxophonist Greg Osby, an expressive player whose sharp sound and sense of drama owe something to the great tenor and soprano man Wayne Shorter. Backed by the sensitive and grooving rhythm section of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Eric Harland, Osby meditates long and hard on this one, soloing for just about the entirety of the track. Moran shines with a few good runs towards the end though, taking things out for a moment, and keeping listeners on their toes.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Jason Moran: Joga

Track

Joga

Artist

Jason Moran (piano)

CD

Facing Left (Blue Note 23884)

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Musicians:

Jason Moran (piano), Tarus Mateen (bass), Nasheet Waits (drums).

Composed by Bjork and Sjon

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Recorded: New York, January 15, 2000

Jason_moran--facing_left

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The pianist Jason Moran is as adventurous with his repertoire as he is with his playing. The bandleader and in-demand sideman (Don Byron, Charles Lloyd, Paul Motian) has recorded everything from pieces by Duke Ellington (Wig Wise) and Jaki Byard (Out Front) to film music (The Godfather: Part II) and hip-hop (Planet Rock). So, somehow, it makes sense that hed be hip to Bjork. With bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits in tow, Moran, on acoustic piano, delivers a delicate reading of Bjorks Joga, the gorgeous ballad-turned-head-nodder from 1997s Homogenic. The leader meditates carefully upon the tunes inner drama until about the five-minute mark, when all things soft and thoughtful take a turn for the funky.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Dave Douglas: Unison

Track

Unison

Artist

Dave Douglas (trumpet)

CD

The Infinite (RCA Bluebird 63918)

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Musicians:

Dave Douglas (trumpet), Chris Potter (bass clarinet), Uri Caine (piano), James Genus (bass), Clarence Penn (drums).

Composed by Bjrk

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Recorded: New York, December 16-18, 2001

Albumcoverdavedouglas-theinfinite

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

The trumpeter Dave Douglass take on Unison is no match for Bjorks sublime and bouncy original recording. Absent from his interpretation are the glitchy beats, and the string, harp and electronica parts that made the composers version so unique and other-wordly. That said, Douglass stab at the tune is a fine effort in and of itself, earthy and organic where Bjorks music is highly programmed and produced. The leaders muted trumpet solo darts in and out of all the right places, with ample support from Chris Potters subtle bass clarinet work, and James Genuss deep and sparse bass playing.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz & Miskiewicz: Hyper-Ballad

Track

Hyper-Ballad

Artist

CD

Trio (ECM 1891)

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Musicians:

Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass), Michal Miskiewicz (drums).

Composed by Bjork

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Recorded: Oslo, March 2004

Mwasilewski-trio

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz are best known as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stankos current rhythm section. But on their own, the trio (sometimes operating under the moniker Simple Acoustic Trio) creates some truly stirring sounds, and in 2004, they stirred up the music of their heroes with their ECM debut. On the album, the group interprets Wayne Shorters Plaza Real, Stankos Green Sky, and Bjorks Hyper-ballad. The latter, a powerful exercise in mid-1990s electronica, is given new life by Wasilewski and company. Now truly a ballad, Hyper-ballad reveals itself to be sparse and sentimental, where Bjorks version was heavy, and tense. Wasilewski is a patient player, and knows just what notes not to play. Well be hearing more from him, no doubt.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Geoff Keezer: Venus As A Boy

Track

Venus As A Boy

Artist

Geoff Keezer (piano)

CD

Wildcrafted: Live at the Dakota (MaxJazz 215)

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Musicians:

Geoff Keezer (piano),

Matt Clohesy (bass), Terreon Gully (drums)

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Composed by Bjork

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Recorded: Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis, September 12, 2004

Geoffrey_keezer--wildcrafted

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Sure, the nimble pianist and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer has put in time with jazz legends (Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Ray Brown), the bright lights of today (Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove) and, most notably, the final edition of the Jazz Messengers. But theres always room for Bjork, and in 2004, the San Diego-based ivory tickler recorded his arrangement of her reggae-tinged Venus as a Boy with Matt Clohesy on bass and fellow Christian McBride sideman Terreon Gully on drums. The results are sublime: Gullys dub groove is airtight, Clohesy is solid and funky, and Keezer rides atop it all with taste, feeling and restraint. One would be hard-pressed to find a wasted note in this recording.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Gretchen Parlato: Come To Me

Track

Come To Me

Artist

Gretchen Parlato (vocals)

CD

Gretchen Parlato (self-released)

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Musicians:

Gretchen Parlato (vocals), Aaron Parks (piano), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Massimo Biolcati (bass),

Caf (percussion)

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Composed by Bjork

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Recorded: New York?, December 2004

Gretchenparlato

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato has made quite a splash since she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institutes International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004. In 2005, she released her first album as a leader, a self-titled disc featuring the talents of West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and pianist Aaron Parks, with repertoire ranging from Jobim to Shorter to Bjork. The bouncy Come to Me, a dance number from Bjorks breakout album, Debut, becomes a samba with Parlato at the helm, and Loueke on nylon string guitar. The leaders buttery vocals and horn-like scatting blend well with her ensemble and, by the time the tune has ended, its hard to imagine that Come to Me belongs to anyone but Parlato.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Jeff Tain Watts: 107 Steps

Track

107 Steps

Artist

CD

Detained At The Blue Note (Half Note 4518)

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Musicians:

Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums),

David Gilmore (guitar), Dave Kikoski (piano), Eric Revis (bass)

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Composed by Bjork, Sjon and Lars von Trier

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Recorded: Blue Note, New York, February 7-8, 2005

Jeff_tain_watts--detained_at_the_blue_note

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The drummer Jeff Tain Watts has a fertile imagination, to say the least. How he transposed Bjorks slow and sweeping 107 Steps into a burning, swinging jazz tune is beyond this writer, and a testament to Watts skill as an arranger. And yet its all there in Bjorks original recording: that great, syncopated bass line, the melody, the changes it just took a great mind to hear it. And a great band to play it right. Watts, behind the kit, is an undeniable force, and the tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland is a strong and flowing improviser, simply erupting with ideas. The guitarist David Gilmore, heard elsewhere with Don Byron and Steve Coleman, is no slouch either: phrase after phrase, Gilmore digs in with precision, and striking fluidity.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Larry Goldings: Cocoon

Track

Cocoon

Artist

Larry Goldings (piano)

CD

Larry Goldings Quartet (Palmetto 2115)

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Musicians:

Larry Goldings (piano),

John Sneider (trumpet, cornet), Ben Allison (bass), Matt Wilson (drums)

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Composed by Bjork and Thomas Knak

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Recorded: Pipersville, PA, February 14-16, 2005

Larry_goldings_quartet

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

It makes perfect sense that the accomplished pianist and keyboardist Larry Goldings would be into Bjork. As a sideman, Goldings has dipped his toes into musical waters far from the jazz shore - he has recorded with rock legend James Taylor, funk heavyweight Maceo Parker and hip hop icons De La Soul - so why would he shy away from the music of Icelands greatest avant-garde pop star? Cocoon, first heard on Bjorks Vespertine album in 2001, is a simple and meditative piece, awash in soothing Wurlitzer electric piano at the hands of Goldings. The emotive trumpeter John Sneider handles the melody masterfully, cradling each note before sending it off into the ether. Wilson chimes in from time to time, but this tune is not about the rhythm section: mostly, its a tender conversation scored for keyboards and trumpet. About what, you ask? Only Bjork knows.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


The Bad Plus: Human Behavior

Track

Human Behavior

Group

The Bad Plus

CD

3 Pack (download only)

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Musicians:

Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass), David King (drums).

Composed by Bjork and Nellee Hooper

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Recorded: Wiltshire, England, May, 2005

The_bad_plus_3_pack

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

The Bad Pluss arrangement of Human Behavior, recorded during the same 2005 sessions that yielded the groups Suspicious Activity?, never found its way onto that album, or any other (its available only as a download). Which is a shame, really, because the track is outstanding, especially when you concentrate on bassist Reid Andersons playing (check out his all-too-brief solo at 2:16), David Kings comic drum fill at 2:18, Iversons striking independence at 3:59, or on the ensemble groove at nearly any point in the song. Truly, if you listen close enough, you can hear three dudes from the American Midwest transform into one small Icelandic woman.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Isobel

Track

Isobel

Group

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

CD

The Sameness of Difference (Hyena 9343)

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Musicians:

Brian Haas (piano), Reed Mathis (bass), Jason Smart (drums).

Composed by Bjork, Nellee Hooper, Marius du Vries and Sjon

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Recorded: New York, June 20, 2005

Albumcoverjacobfredjazzodyssey-thesamenessofdifference

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are nothing if not eclectic. For 2005s Joel Dorn-produced The Sameness of Difference, for instance, the piano trio (today a quartet, with strikingly different personnel) recorded compositions by a wide array of stylists: Mingus, Brubeck, Hendrix, Lennon/McCartney and Bjork! Isobel, a haunting, string-enhanced thriller off of Bjorks 1995 album Post, tells the tale of a hermit, but JFJO have a much more extroverted story to spin. On this excursion, electric bassist Reed Mathis states the melody (with more than a little help from some otherworldly effects) while the spastic acoustic pianist and stride enthusiast Brian Haas comps underneath, and the sensitive drummer Jason Smart propels the group into stellar regions. The sounds of Jacob Fred are wild, but always thoughtful, and the music of Bjork suits them well: like their Icelandic hero, these musicians are big risk-takers, and always evolving.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra: Enjoy

Track

Enjoy

Group

Travis Sullivans Bjorkestra

CD

Enjoy! (Koch 4432)

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Musicians:

Travis Sullivan (alto sax, clarinet),

Kevin Bryan, Colin Brigstocke, Kelly Pratt, Alicia Rau (trumpets), Ryan Keberle, Alan Ferber, Andrew Gold, Kevin Schmidt (trombones), Arun Luthra, Sean Nowell, Dan Pratt, Lauren Sevian (reeds), Art Hirahara (piano), Yoshi Waki (bass), Joe Abbatantuono (drums), Alex Fortuit (electronic percussion, programming), Becca Stevens (vocals).

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Composed by Bjork and Tricky

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, August 26-27, 2006

Travis_sullivan

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

A gaggle of intriguing repertory groups have sprung up in the jazz world in recent years. Marc Ribots Spiritual Unity, for one, plays the music of Albert Ayler, and Ideal Bread, led by the baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, kicks out the jams of Steve Lacy. But most exciting of all (conceptually, at least) is the New York-based Bjorkestra, an 18-piece jazz big band dedicated to the music of Bjork. Formed by the alto saxophonist Travis Sullivan in 2004, the tremendous Bjorkestra has tackled the songs of its Icelandic muse with fire and imagination, and expanded on occasion to include guests like the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and the tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Enjoy, from their debut CD, is a driving performance that flirts with drum and bass, and benefits heavily from Joe Abbatantuonos propulsive drumming, Kevin Schmidts sinuous bass trombone solo, and Becca Stevens flexible and convincing vocals.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


Yaron Herman: Army Of Me

Track

Army Of Me

Artist

Yaron Herman (piano)

CD

A Time for Everything (Laborie 4)

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Musicians:

Yaron Herman (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums).

Composed by Bjork and Graham Massey

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Recorded: Pompignan, France, January 29-February 1, 2007

Yaron_herman--a_time_for_everything

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Simply put, Army of Me is Bjork at her best. The lead track off of 1995s Post, Army is brash, catchy, and full of fire and attitude. Plus, it features a distorted and snarling bass ostinato that youll never quite get out of your head. So it was only a matter of time before someone tackled this one. And, fortunately, that someones version is a fine re-imagining. The young pianist Yaron Herman, from Paris (but born and raised in Israel), featured this tune on his 2007 trio album A Time for Everything, and took it to that fuzzy middle ground between jazz and rock most often occupied by bands like The Bad Plus and Sex Mob. Herman, a tasteful and sprightly player, nearly swings the tune at times, but the intensity and feel of the arrangement is more in line with rock music. He is supported here by the double bassist Matt Brewer and driving drummer Gerald Cleaver. Other cover tunes on A Time for Everything include Leonard Cohens Hallelujah and Britney Spears Toxic.

Reviewer: Brad Farberman


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