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The Dead Kenny Gs: Operation Long Leash

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Never before has a jazz combo’s name so perfectly conveyed its ethos. The Dead Kenny Gs manages to both reference an iconoclastic hardcore punk band and express disdain for pandering-to-the-masses smooth jazz while keeping a sense of humor about it all. Look inside the jacket: There are the trio’s members in curly Kenny G wigs, gesturing at the camera.

Kenny G may pretend he plays jazz, but these guys don’t. There’s a little bit of rock, a little bit of funk and a whole bunch of heavy metal in these 36 minutes. A lot of noise comes out of only three guys, but consider that Skerik shreds saxophones and keyboards, Mike Dillon smacks vibraphone, drums and percussion, and Brad Houser pummels bass and baritone sax. Charlie Hunter adds guitar to one tune.

Skerik and Dillon constitute half of Garage a Trois, and the Dead Kenny Gs does feel like an extension of that band’s harsher material. “Melvin Jones” alternates between one-chord thrash-metal passages and a tasteful sax-and-vibes duet, like a radio station flipping between Anthrax and Red Norvo. On “Devil’s Playground,” a simple melodic motif and basic pop rhythm form the basis of major-chord rock that whips itself into thunderous, overdramatic arena rock. Bits of Balkan folk, Latin percussion and funk-rock-these guys are two degrees of separation away from Galactic-emerge elsewhere. “Black Death” adds vocals to Dillon’s responsibilities; he shout-sings about addictions to heroin and oil.

Then, as the disc closes, the Dead Kenny Gs-perhaps just to show that they can-play straight-up swing on “Jazz Millionaire,” an obvious slap at their namesake, and these two minutes of bop are cooler than anything in Kenneth Gorelick’s entire oeuvre.

Originally Published