The Jazz Passengers - Reunited
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
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
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
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
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!