Yaron Herman: Army Of Me

Simply put, “Army of Me” is Bjork at her best. The lead track off of 1995’s Post, “Army” is brash, catchy, and full of fire and attitude. Plus, it features a distorted and snarling bass ostinato that you’ll never quite get out of your head. So it was only a matter of time before someone tackled this one. And, fortunately, that someone’s 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 Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

September 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra: Enjoy

A gaggle of intriguing repertory groups have sprung up in the jazz world in recent years. Marc Ribot’s 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 Abbatantuono’s propulsive drumming, Kevin Schmidt’s sinuous bass trombone solo, and Becca Stevens’ flexible and convincing vocals.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Isobel

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are nothing if not eclectic. For 2005’s 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 Bjork’s 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.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Bad Plus: Human Behavior

The Bad Plus’s arrangement of “Human Behavior,” recorded during the same 2005 sessions that yielded the group’s Suspicious Activity?, never found its way onto that album, or any other (it’s available only as a download). Which is a shame, really, because the track is outstanding, especially when you concentrate on bassist Reid Anderson’s playing (check out his all-too-brief solo at 2:16), David King’s comic drum fill at 2:18, Iverson’s 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.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Larry Goldings: Cocoon

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 Iceland’s greatest avant-garde pop star? “Cocoon,” first heard on Bjork’s 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, it’s a tender conversation scored for keyboards and trumpet. About what, you ask? Only Bjork knows.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jeff Tain Watts: 107 Steps

The drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts has a fertile imagination, to say the least. How he transposed Bjork’s 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 it’s all there in Bjork’s 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.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gretchen Parlato: Come To Me

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato has made quite a splash since she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s 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 Bjork’s breakout album, Debut, becomes a samba with Parlato at the helm, and Loueke on nylon string guitar. The leader’s buttery vocals and horn-like scatting blend well with her ensemble and, by the time the tune has ended, it’s hard to imagine that “Come to Me” belongs to anyone but Parlato.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Geoff Keezer: Venus As A Boy

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 there’s 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: Gully’s 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.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz & Miskiewicz: Hyper-Ballad

Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz are best known as Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s 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 Shorter’s “Plaza Real,” Stanko’s “Green Sky,” and Bjork’s “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 Bjork’s version was heavy, and tense. Wasilewski is a patient player, and knows just what notes not to play. We’ll be hearing more from him, no doubt.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Unison

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

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Joga

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 he’d be hip to Bjork. With bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits in tow, Moran, on acoustic piano, delivers a delicate reading of Bjork’s “Joga,” the gorgeous ballad-turned-head-nodder from 1997’s Homogenic. The leader meditates carefully upon the tune’s inner drama until about the five-minute mark, when all things soft and thoughtful take a turn for the funky.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Greg Osby: All Neon Like

It’s easy to see why a jazz musician might want to tackle Bjork’s “All Neon Like”. Consisting of little more than a sinister synth bass line, a simple electronic beat, and Bjork’s haunting voice soaring overhead, “All Neon Like” is pretty wide open—there’s 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.

September 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ede Wright: Army of Me

In perhaps a bit of irony, Ede Wright's most harmonically complex song on Earthbound Gravity comes from international pop star Björk's straightforward industrial rock hit of 1995. Wright's interpretation transforms "Army of Me" into an up-tempo modern jazz piece. Wright and bassist Marc Miller combine to render the verses and chorus as brisk and odd-metered basslines, with Wright overdubbing single-line guitar notes where Björk's lyrics would go. The bridge is a boppish departure from the written composition that Wright uses as a platform to launch some wickedly fast and fluttering lines. "Army of Me" is a dark, weary song at heart, but Ede Wright saw its potential as a lively jazz tune by injecting a little soul and a lot of musicianship into it.

February 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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