Jazz Punks – Smashups – Foam @ The Mouth Records

by | May 5, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Jazz Punks – Smashups – Foam @ The Mouth Records, 60:05 [4/5/12] ****1/2:
(Sal Polcino – guitar; Hugh Elliott – drums; Robby Elfman – saxophone; Danny Kastner – piano; Michael Polcino – bass)
Jazz Punks conjures up a lot of strange images. Perhaps it’s Johnny Rotten with ray-bans or Dave Brubeck lighting his piano on fire. But rest easy, the name is somewhat misleading. The group Jazz Punks is a versatile ensemble of post-bop jazz players that combines mostly classic rock and punk songs with well-known jazz pieces. Their fearless approach to music uncovers a visceral accessibility for hybrid music genres. Years ago, as the jazz movement adapted popular music to express individuality, there was some push back from the American songwriting establishment. To some (especially these guys), this would be a badge of honor.
Smashups walks a fine line between novelty and inspiration…and it works. The opening track, “Foleo” is an intriguing combination of Sonny Rollin’s “Oleo” and most likely (not identified in the credits), Jimi Hendix’s “Foxy Lady”. Behind the emphatic rock chops of guitarist Sal Polcino (Tower Of Power) is the versatile sax of Robby Elfman who can wail in either dialect. Danny Kastner is talented and plays piano with vitality and graceful phrasing. An even better collision of styles can be found on “Clash-Up”. Combining two atypical time signatures (The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” and Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”), the players switch back and forth with alacrity. Polcino’s riffs on guitar are a nice counterpoint to the muscular sax lines. The suddenness of transitions throughout the album is reminiscent of John Zorn’s Naked City release. Veteran drummer Hugh Elliott (Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington) can drive the band in any direction.
Another natural hook up is “I Can See For Miles”. Merging the ominous tone of the Who (after all, Pete Townsend is Punk’s grouchy uncle.) with the cool blues of Miles Davis (“No Blues”), the chemistry is compelling. There is a great fusion jam in the middle with wah-wah guitar and emotional saxophone. Another highlight is the wacky “Led Gillespie”. If you guessed Led Zeppelin and Dizzy Gillespie, you were right. Somehow, “Night In Tunisia” and “Misty Mountain Hop” are united. Pianist Danny Kastner has sufficient agility to execute measured improvised solos (he even throws in a little “Satin Doll”) and brusque chords that flow through the different movements. The band is always hinting at additional melodies (possibly the James Bond main theme). The fun continues with “Creep Train”.  This track intermingles two blistering Radiohead songs (“Paranoid Android” and “Creep”) that are set against the lyrical Billy Strayhorn-penned, Duke Ellington icon, “Take The A Train”. The group excels on the jazzier interpretations.
This quintet has an intuitive feel for traditional jazz. On “Bo-So” they fuse parts of “Body And Soul” (probably John Coltrane’s cover) and Coltrane’s “Naima” into a textured jam with groove bass (Michael Polcino), fluid guitar, percussive piano and high register sax lines. Two original compositions, “Little Chickens” and “Mind Over Matter” establish jazz Punks own brand of music.
Smashups adds a fresh twist to genre bending. The only question is…what’s next?
TrackList:  Foleo; Clash-Up; Creep Train; Mind Over Matter; Heavyfoot; Bo-So; I Can See For Miles; Little Chickens; 12 Steps To Hell; Led Gillespie
—Robbie Gerson

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