20th Century Folk Selections
The Royal Potato Family
Calling this record 20th Century Folk Selections may be a bit of a stretch—it includes more rock songs than anything else—but guitarist Todd Clouser’s point is clear: Anything, especially popular music, can become the basis for jazz-minded improvisation.
His band A Love Electric has a big, fat sound. There are two keyboard players—Mark Aanderud on piano and Bryan Nichols on Fender Rhodes—plus trumpet (Adam Meckler), trombone (Rick Parker), bass (Aaron Cruz), drums (Hernan Hecht) and percussion (Cyro Baptista). A cover of Malvina Reynolds’ 1962 tune “Little Boxes” is turned into a slab of foreboding metal interspersed with bits of funk. A slow take of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” transforms the 1957 hit so much that you’d be hard-pressed to find the melody in it; with extra help from trumpeter Steven Bernstein, it’s just a chordal backdrop for Clouser’s lyrical soloing. A psychedelic, amped-up rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “Gratitude” serves up a double-fisted electric crunch of guitar and Rhodes overlaid with funky piano and, later, Clouser’s shredding. A redo of Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” is all hazy and druggy, with sleepy guitar work, a distorted electric piano and nonchalant drumming.
The centerpiece is a nine-minute, straightforward and oddly affecting rendition of Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Clouser plays the familiar arpeggio and Meckler states the melody. Aanderud, in his solo, finds places for blue notes where Kurt Cobain never put them, before Clouser whips up a beast of a solo himself. (When Meckler returns to restate the theme, there’s what sounds like a misstep in one passage. Does he intentionally bastardize the line, or is he just playing the wrong notes? It’s not clear.) In any event, the album is an adrenaline pumper. Clouser says these eight tunes were chosen from among the “many recorded,” and that 20th Century Folk Selections is the first of what will be a series of releases. Don’t make us wait too long.