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The Jazz Passengers: Still Life With Trouble (Thirsty Ear)

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The Jazz Passengers (photo by Dana Hall)
The Jazz Passengers (photo by Dana Hall)
The Jazz Passengers: "Still Life With Trouble"
The Jazz Passengers: "Still Life With Trouble"

The Jazz Passengers have proven to be one of the most enduring bands to come out of the original Downtown New York scene. In their 30-year history they’ve also been a remarkably versatile outfit, blowing free one minute, revitalizing hard bop the next and finally transforming into the classiest of lounge acts with no less than Deborah Harry, Jimmy Scott or Bob Dorough in front of the microphone. On top of all that, these guys project a wry, world-weary sense of humor that elevates the music rather than detracting or distracting from it.

They revisit many of these characteristic shifts on Still Life With Trouble. After invigorating Peaches & Herb’s steamy “Reunited” on their last album, they do the same here to the Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Drummers E.J. Rodriguez and Ben Perowsky give it more of a calypso shuffle, while violinist Sam Bardfeld retains the original’s trademark flute riff. Along with the group’s largely unison vocals, saxophonist Roy Nathanson re-crafts the spoken intro while keeping the advice, “Before you do anything rash/Dig this.” His laconic delivery makes the tune seem like sage advice for these times.

Elsewhere, Nathanson gives us “We’re All Jews,” the title a reference to Lenny Bruce and the music a mashup of Gypsy violin and saxophones that blend a cantor’s melody with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s two-horn orations. Vibraphonist Bill Ware’s “Friends” feels like an uplifting tribute to comradery, though some of the zany lyrics (“When the sun comes in the morning and you don’t…”) will inspire a double take. The group also transforms the blues, concocting something completely original out of the form on two different tracks. And co-founder Curtis Fowlkes continues to be a musical treasure, capable of mean solos on his horn and exquisitely smooth vocals when he puts the trombone down.

Originally Published