There are currently a number of performers who attempt to bring classical works into a jazz idiom merely by flattening some of the harmonies and occasionally tweaking the melodic line. Such performers generally evoke fond memories of their source works and nothing more.
Rarer are performers who treat classical works as jazz artists have traditionally treated popular songs: as a jumping-off point for harmonic and rhythmic explorations of their own. The Lemon Juice Quartet takes the latter approach on its new CD, Peasant Songs, and shows that jazz is truly a music that can break down and recast any other in its own exciting form.
Admittedly, it's harder to break down classical works than most songs, what with their knotty harmonies and deceptive rhythms. However, the Lemon Juicers- Eyal Maoz, guitar; Avishai E. Cohen, trumpet; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, bass; and Kevin Zubek, drums-approach their selections with respect but without overreverence. They find the groove in a generous helping of Bela Bartok's "Hungarian Peasant Songs," while their acerbic sound recasts the melodies in a contemporary mood and their solo riffs show a deep understanding of the music's possibilities.
More surprising are the quartet's takes on Erik Satie. They tug out the insistent rhythms from under the original melodic filigree in "Dried Embryos" (yes, that's the name) and make this thoroughly cosmopolitan French work into a peasant song itself, while the famously languid "Gnossienne No. 1" swings hard, from the bottom up. Although these performances shed new light on Bart¢k and Satie, perhaps the highest compliment to pay Peasant Songs is that it's a fine jazz album indeed.