Have you ever wanted to hear the music of Icelandic wonder Björk as interpreted by an 18-piece jazz ensemble? Your time has come. Although alto saxophonist Travis Sullivan may define his Bjorkestra as genre-bending, it is indeed firmly rooted in the freewheeling jazz tradition of improvisational solos and startling dissonance while not forgetting the heft of swing. The project is tied down by the great producer Jason Miles, whose wide-ranging vision has been behind CDs interpreting the music of Grover Washington Jr., Ivan Lins and Marvin Gaye, among others. Here, though, is a more difficult egg to deal with. Do you make an all-instrumental CD or grab a vocalist?
Both, as it turns out. Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra accomplishes on CD what it has been doing for intrigued crowds nationwide as the path to Björk’s soul is reached through a remarkably talented group of young musicians (age 25-34 demographic), including imaginative baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian and delightful jazz vocalist Becca Stevens. Stevens’ vocals sometimes come close to Björk’s caterwauling, but if you wanted a Björk orchestral CD with Björk I suppose you could have searched Reykjavik. But Stevens’ classy jazz vocals hold up. On “Show Me Forgiveness,” her expressive range highlights a tune that Björk twisted into a see-saw acappella ride on the original.
Not all of the 10 songs here include Stevens’ vocals, and, of course, the fun is hearing the orchestra’s re-imagining of tunes like “Cocoon” without them, as well as taking a tripping electronic Björk classic like “Hyperballad” and pushing it to loud and new jazz extremes.