The music industry spends a lot of time trying to organize the massive output of American artists into categories. There are broad categories and subcategories, but a certain percentage of artists still never quite fit into any of them. I am one of those, as are many of the musicians I listen to and collaborate with. So when JazzTimes asked me to write this column, I decided to focus on “crossover” players-i.e., those who perform and record in multiple genres. Here is a playlist featuring tracks by such fellow genre-benders.
Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009)
It just wants you to put words to it.
“I Believe in You”
Black Dub (Jive/Red Ink, 2010)
Drummer Brian Blade’s intro is totally suspended, setting us up for super satisfaction when the groove comes in. It’s so loose and so grounded at the same time.
“16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six”
Big Time (Island, 1988)
Tom Waits has long recruited artists from other fields to play in his band and on his albums, and bassist Greg Cohen was a defining sound on his great recordings from the 1980s. Compare this to something from Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar, where Greg stays mostly arco. It’s the same guy, straight and true.
“Old Man River”
MARC RIBOT TRIO
Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi, 2014)
Marc Ribot is a hack-and I mean that as a compliment! He can play passionately in any genre and is asked to do so all the time. Compare this to some of his work with Buddy Miller, T Bone Burnett or Tom Waits. It’s the same voice but totally at home within multiple contexts. I love the way the melody comes through the jagged lines of the arpeggiated chords on this live version of the old classic.
Tiny Voices (Anti-, 2003)
Joe Henry has a habit, much like Tom Waits, of inviting exotic sounds into his songwriting. Listen to Don Byron, on clarinet, and trumpeter Ron Miles on this track. They dance their way all over this album. And go back to Henry’s Scar record and listen for Ornette Coleman.
Sounding Point (Emarcy, 2009)
Julian Lage can do anything. His sense of lyricism, rhythmic feel and prodigious athleticism make anything possible. I’ve long loved this whole album and especially this track, but have recently been watching him on YouTube with Chris Eldridge (of Punch Brothers fame) and marveling at his comfort in styles other than jazz. Go to 2:30 and imagine every instrument replaced by those of a classic bluegrass quartet.
THE NELS CLINE SINGERS
Initiate (Cryptogramophone, 2010)
I could have picked a Wilco track to illuminate Nels’ unrestrained artistry, but it’s hard to find one you might not already know, so I went with this favorite. Also, check out the first track of my Mischief & Mayhem album: If it weren’t so obviously self-promoting I’d include it here as an example of Nels’ amazing ability to support whatever is going on around him, be it a song with words or a sound collage.
ALLISON MILLER’S BOOM TIC BOOM
No Morphine No Lilies (Foxhaven/The Royal Potato Family, 2013)
Both the drummer Allison Miller and bassist Todd Sickafoose play around in all of the genres. On a track like this they refuse to box it in but never let that groove go.