Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce: Complicated Day

Now and then it’s nice to be reminded that jazz can be bold and imaginative and still be fun. Complicated Day comes from the complicated mind of Roy Nathanson-saxophonist, vocalist, composer, lyricist, bandleader and charter member of Manhattan’s Downtown scene. What, in essence, Nathanson has shaped is a free-jazz poetry slam, a boundless cacophony with a Jerry Lewis-meets-Ornette Coleman sensibility. Joining Nathanson are five co-conspirators-trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, bassist Tim Kiah, guitarist Jerome Harris, beatboxist Napoleon Maddox and violinist Sam Bardfeld-all of whom contribute vocal support.

There is a method to their collective madness. These are fine, fearless musicians, and much of the album tackles serious subjects, including the challenges of relationships, childrearing and, per the title track, negotiating life’s myriad hiccups. Still, it is impossible to listen to Complicated Day without being caught up in the sheer joy that underlies their craftsmanship. Amid six originals (all written or co-written by Nathanson) is the album’s centerpiece, “The Nettle Tree,” a poem written and read by Gerald Stern that explores the wonder found in everyday objects. There are also three covers: a crazily zigzagging “On a Slow Boat to China,” a sanguine “I Can See Clearly Now” (featuring Nathanson’s son Gabriel on lead vocals and trumpet) and a stealthily impassioned treatment of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing” that, says Nathanson, encapsulates the band’s philosophy to “not only tell our stories but to live them in whatever ways feel right.”