NY's superb Jazz Passengers, led by trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, brings together hard-bop and vocals in a Mingus workshop mode, here reunited with Elvis Costello, Marc Ribot, Deborah Harry, &c.
Label: JTR-Justin Time Records
Released in: Canada
"Reunited, as with all past Passengers recordings, features a blend of group vocals as well as showcased guest vocals, with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes leading the way. Along with Grady Tate, he's got to be one of the best instrumentalists that also possess a killer voice.
"Button Up" is an energetic R&B romp that features Fowlkes on lead with the whole group on ensemble vocals, and it also features some great playing from violinist Bardfeld and guitarist Ribot. "National Anthem" starts as a quiet duo between Fowlkes and Nathanson, then stretches into a completely unpredictable group workout, complete with surf and psychedelic guitar riffs punctuated by sharp, percussive ensemble horn charts. "Tell Me" is a pretty ballad that features great percussion from Rodriguez and lovely trombone licks from Fowlkes, who also provides the vocal. Bill Ware's vibes are also wonderfully evocative, and in fact hard to single out in any song, so integral they are to the Passengers' sound.
It could be said that Reunited is jazz chamber music in the same way that Ellington's music was, as the solos are short, making the proceedings full of intricate ensemble work. The music has its own particular landscape, giving the players the confidence to step out. It's a sound that's uniquely their own, yet there is a precedent: think of the way James Brown made his horns part of the rhythm section. It's also unfailingly diverse, changing as a film does, from scene to scene, with moments of bombast (check out two minutes into "National Anthem") to the intimate, unpretentious poetry they make of the title track, a #1 hit for Peaches & Herb in 1979. While Herb has remained a constant in the chart-topping group since its creation, no less than six consecutive women have filled the role of "Peaches." Hilariously, Fowlkes sings Peaches' part here (after Nathanson recites the first verse spoken word), effectively crowning him the seventh "Peaches" and the first (known) male one. In all seriousness, the Passengers' reading is both funny (listen to Ribot's trick bag here) yet surprisingly poignant.
Ribot, a jazz/rock icon in his own right (his contributions to recordings by Tom Waits, John Zorn, Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull are nearly unimaginable without him), plays his heart out on the album's first six tracks, with excitingly dissonant yet somehow elegant riffs that are as good as anything he's committed to disc. In most jazz groups, the lyrics are not written by its own members, but here we have one of rock's greatest lyricists (Elvis Costello) singing the album's first composition, yet it's not his own work - it's Roy Nathanson's composition "Wind Walked By." The two are great friends, and Costello has contributed to past Passengers records, including Individually Twisted (1996), on which he did co-write, with bassist Brad Jones, the song "Aubergine." Costello's performance here is lovely and languid; it's Nathanson's reflection on the new depression ("I was afraid we wouldn't get this record out before the financial crunch was over!" adds the composer and saxophonist). Costello has always sung uncannily in tune, and this is no exception. It's also got some incredibly tricky intervals, yet the former Declan MacManus sails through without a hitch.
Guest vocal tracks bookend the record, starting with Elvis and ending with two bonus tracks featuring "The Baroness" - as they call her eminence, Debbie Harry - on vocals. Again, it's testament to her close relationship with the Passengers that she unhesitatingly allowed their inclusion. For years, the rock icon has both performed live and recorded with the Passengers, allowing her the artistic freedom and great fun necessary to keep sane. Here, she has great fun with bassist Brad Jones' "Think Of Me" as well as her own song "One Way Or Another," a worldwide hit for Blondie, culminating in Harry imploring the guys to join her on vocals.
Reunited (the album) is - as you may have guessed - a play on words. In naming their album after the Peaches & Herb hit, The Jazz Passengers are in fact addressing a number of things: the return of original guitarist Marc Ribot; the life-affirming fact that it's their first record in a dozen years; and the obviously renewed vigour that any ensemble feels when they reunite after time off, and find that not only does it still work, but that sparks fly!"-Justin-Time
Related Categories of Interest:
NY Downtown & Jazz/Improv
Song Based Music
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Label: JTR-Justin Time Records
Catalog ID: 8565
Squidco Product Code: 13696
Recorded at Kampo Cultural Center, NYC on June 26th and September 15th, 2009 by Hugo Dwyer and Jonathan Altschuler. Spanish Harlem recorded at Brooklyn Recording in Brooklyn on February 14th, 2010 by Hugo Dwyer and Andy Taub. Susi Hyldgaard self-recorded in Denmark.
Roy Nathanson-saxophones, vocals
Curtis Fowlkes-trombone, vocals
Marc Ribot-guitars, vocals
Brad Jones-bass, vocals
Sam Bardfeld-violin, vocals
E.J. Rodriguez-drums, percussion, vocals
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1. Wind Walked By 6:33
2. Seven 6:13
3. Button Up 4:10
4. Reunited 4:50
5. The National Anthem 6:59
6. Tell Me 4:45
7. Spanish Harlem 6:00
8. Think Of Me 3:54
9. Wone Way Or Another 5:23