Clip: A jazz quartet tribute to Pavement is, inexplicably, a roaring success.
Slanted and Enchanted
A jazz quartet tribute to Pavement is, inexplicably, a roaring success.
By Rob Harvilla
Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Ali Jackson, big-shot jazz drummer extraordinaire, won't claim
encyclopedic knowledge of indie rock, but like all sensible Americans
he enjoys Pavement a great deal. "I like that hit that they had on
MTV, that 'Cut Your Hair,'" he enthuses. "It's real catchy and real
earthy, just playin' around, like you play around like kids play
around. Like 'Ring Around the Rosie.'"
Indeed, Stockton's favorite sons always seemed a bit amateurish,
childlike, and in constant danger of, like the proverbial ashes, all
falling down. But they never did, and now they're deified American
rock royalty, so now an ebullient version of 1994's "Cut Your Hair,"
that hit they sorta had, appears on Gold Sounds, the world's first
Pavement jazz tribute record.
This is a bit odd.
Pavement, you see, did not exactly perform with a jazzman's technical
acumen or precision -- idiots savants, maybe, but certainly not
virtuosos. Jazz covers of pop/rock hits remain wildly popular as
crossover attempts and Look-How-With-It-I-Am boasts, but they usually
target artier, more elaborate fare (Radiohead Jazz is practically its
own genre). But the grunged-up, shambling, barely-in-tune "Cut Your
Hair"? As jazz?
Absolutely. James Carter (described in Gold Sounds' liner notes as
"John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler rolled into one")
greets us with shrieking, atonal sax, which gives way to a crawling
soul shuffle, Cyrus Chestnut's warm organ lines floating atop Reginald
Veal's bass and Ali's own precise drumming. Very light, airy,
comforting. But five minutes in it suddenly, joyously explodes,
doubling in tempo and exuberance, Ali raining down bombastic rock-drum
fills while a pack of cooing soul singers echoes and refines the
original's now-iconic chorus: Doo-doo doo-doo-doo, doo-doo
doo-doo-doo, doo-ahhhhh. The deliberately sloppy becomes precise and
confident; the emotionally distant becomes ecstatically direct.
The trick, Ali insists, is to see that thread from the beginning.
"Pavement's musical style and direction, even though it's a limited
musical knowledge -- it has a presence and a statement and a vibration
that comes across in their music," he says, chatting on the phone from
a touring gig with Wynton Marsalis. "Music can be extremely
intellectual, and it can be extremely basic. And that's the beauty of
Gold Sounds, the brainchild of the nascent NYC outfit Brown Brothers
Recordings, sounds initially like a cheap, contrived stunt. The liner
notes admit the label basically threw Ali, James, Cyrus, and Reginald
together Fantasy Baseball-style; Ali himself knew very little about
Pavement before he got the call. But the four seasoned jazzmen -- Ali
is the youngest, at 29 -- had played before in various configurations,
and that familiarity and warmth immediately transforms tracks like
"Stereo" and "Summer Babe" from cheap tricks into inspired
re-creations. The slinky bassline to "Blue Hawaiian" (a hidden gem
from 1999's Brighten the Corners) translates perfectly from cheeky
beach-bum indie-rock to mellow downtempo jazz, and Cyrus turns Slanted
& Enchanted standout "Trigger Cut" into a solo Jelly Roll-ing piano
But the monster here is "Here," the closest Slanted got to a
conventional ballad, totally pushed by James' moaning soprano sax into
makeout anthem glory for Gold Sounds. It's an unabashedly cheesy,
nearly smooth-jazz moment, but it's brave, honest, and beautiful. Most
jazz reworkings make simple things complicated, but "Here" does the
opposite, disregarding Pavement's facade of apathetic cool and
exposing the yearning melodies beneath.
Hopefully it will prove as eye-opening to lifelong Pavement fans as it
did to Ali himself. "I knew a little bit, just from, like, MTV," he
recalls. "That's it. I didn't really know a lot about them, but after
I watched their documentary and listened to all of their records, then
I had a lot better understanding of what they were about."
That doc, 2002's DVD release Slow Century, was particularly
instructive. "Even though it was very kinda amateurish and very basic,
they had a sound and a vibration," Ali says. "The characters in the
band, they're just kinda wild." Especially original drummer Gary
Young, Pavement's wildly unhinged Party Animal Imitating the Muppets'
Animal figure. "He was just wild, just floatin' through life, live
hour to hour," Ali says. "Cats just be gettin' high ... whatever.
Wherever life, wherever the wind blows. And that's a perspective on
life. Culturally, the vibration of some people's reality. It's
interesting, and their music has that, it's just like, 'This is the
talent that we have, this is what we're presentin'. We love music, and
this is our offering, whatever.' With limited skills. That's the
beauty of music."
For now Gold Sounds is largely an Internet phenomenon (enjoy the
dune-buggy intro at BrownBrothersRecordings.com) -- the quartet has a
string of NYC shows later this month, with the hope of hitting the
touring and festival circuit next year. Meanwhile, other pop-into-jazz
heavyweights like Brad Mehldau (whose new disc Day Is Done begins with
a flashy meditation on Radiohead's "Knives Out") and the Bad Plus
(famed for jazzing up Blondie, Aphex Twin, and Nirvana) roll merrily
on (each has an SF date this week), but now they have a new paragon to
aspire to, one that jacks up the fancy-pants technical virtuosity but
alerts you to the warmth you might've forgotten or missed entirely in
the original. Pavement's corners are now even brighter.
- I think this article is more than a little dumb/unfair on the subject of Pavement. Sure, they were rough - they were no jazz musicians - but they didn't sound like they did because they couldn't play. They sounded like they did because they were fans of Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth and the Fall. It wasn't an accident.
- Carl's critcism is on the mark, though I agree with Harvilla's basic
premise that a jazz treatment of Pavement songs is not an obvious move
-- less obvious than, say, Lester Bowie covering the Notorious BIG.
Thus my interest in forwarding the clip along.
This talk of indie rock and jazz makes me pine for Universal Congress Of.
On 11/3/05, Wilson, Carl <cwilson@...> wrote:
> I think this article is more than a little dumb/unfair on the subject of
> Pavement. Sure, they were rough - they were no jazz musicians - but they
> didn't sound like they did because they couldn't play. They sounded like
> they did because they were fans of Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth and the
> Fall. It wasn't an accident.
> carl w.
> a jazz treatment of Pavement songs is not an obvious moveAnd certainly less obvious than all that jazz-Radiohead stuff, which I enjoyed the article's reference to.
> -- less obvious than, say, Lester Bowie covering the Notorious BIG.
But jazz-Pavement is not as odd as it looks. If you consider the jazz influence on their influences - from Ornette/Ayler to Beefheart/Ubu/Fall/No Wave/SY to Pavement to here, it's kind of just coming full circle.
Hey! Wow! Imagine a jazz album of rearranged Captain Beefheart. That would be fantastic.
(Tip: This is where somebody grunts, "Pshaw, it would just sound exactly like [free jazz album X].")
- On 11/4/05, Wilson, Carl <cwilson@...> wrote:
> > a jazz treatment of Pavement songs is not an obvious moveYes, although notions of virtuosity (or at least complex technique)
> > -- less obvious than, say, Lester Bowie covering the Notorious BIG.
> And certainly less obvious than all that jazz-Radiohead stuff, which I
> enjoyed the article's reference to.
> But jazz-Pavement is not as odd as it looks. If you consider the jazz
> influence on their influences - from Ornette/Ayler to Beefheart/Ubu/Fall/No
> Wave/SY to Pavement to here, it's kind of just coming full circle.
are more at play in Beefheart , than, say, the Fall or Pavement.
(Sonic Youth fall somewhere in between, and Ubu varies depending on
the lineup, but a lot of Ravenstine's work is technically complex.)
> Hey! Wow! Imagine a jazz album of rearranged Captain Beefheart. That wouldOr like a lot of Gary Lucas's work post-Beeheart! Now, a jazz album
> be fantastic.
> (Tip: This is where somebody grunts, "Pshaw, it would just sound exactly
> like [free jazz album X].")
of rearranged Fall would be pretty unexpected...and something I'd like