It's nothing new to take contemporary popular music and interpret it in a jazz context, but few groups are formed around the singular premise of exploring just one group. The Crimson Jazz Trio (CJ3)pianist Jody Nardone, bassist Tim Landers and drummer Ian Wallace (the trio's formative drive and direct link to King Crimson, playing on the often undervalued Islands (Island, 1971))hit relative pay dirt with The King Crimson Songbook Volume One (DGM Live, 2005). Wallace's unexpected passing in February, 2007 makes King Crimson Songbook Volume 2 all the more important, the trio's swan song and final opportunity to capitalize on Volume One's successes while, at the same time, eliminate any perceived weaknesses.
As compelling as Volume One was, the group played it a little too safe, being a little too reverent to music by a group for whom risk is a fundamental. Sure, Nardone, Landers and Wallace took songs like "Red," "Starless" and "Ladies of the Road," and gave them a more swinging attitude and sophisticated harmonizing. But from the first moments of In the Court's title track, which opens Volume Two, it's clear that CJ3 has pushed the limits of interpretation much further. Condensing the tune's lengthy chorus into something more hard-driving and drum-driven that becomes an ostinato for a powerful drum solo near the song's end, there's a stronger feeling of a group who may respect its source material, but has decided this time around to throw away preconceptions and go for it more fervently.
As with its predecessor, Volume Two covers a broad swath of Crimson material. The title track to In the Court of the Crimson King (Island, 1969) is largely Latin-esque, while a fiercely up-tempo version of In the Wake of Poseidon's (Island, 1970) "Pictures of a City" goes even further out than the original despite the trio's reduced instrumentation and acoustic bent. There are two tracks from Thrak (DGM Live, 1995)an elegantly balladic take of "One Time," which opens up into an extended double-time spot for Nardone, and the dark-hued "Inner Garden," featuring the pianist on vocals.
The 18-minute "Islands Suite," which incorporates two of Islands' best tracks"Formantera Lady," here taken even more impressionistically than the original, and the rubato "Sailor's Tale," which features CJ3, augmented by Crimson alum/saxophonist Mel Collins, at its interpretive bestalso features brief solo segments for each member of the trio. Wallace's "Press Gang" orbits around the definitive 6/8 pulse of the original "Sailor's Tale" but goes further, while Landers' "The Plank" is a rare opportunity to hear the bassist, who sticks mostly to his fretless electric, soloing impressively on the acoustic incarnation.
With Wallace now gone, it's unlikely that there will be a Volume Three, but with its second kick at the Crimson can, Crimson Jazz Trio has both fully delivered on its promise and created a lasting tribute to Wallace, who may have left Crimson over 30 years ago, but for whom his relatively brief tenure was clearly a life-altering experience.
Personnel: Ian Wallace: drums; Jody Nardone: piano, vocal (5); Tim Landers: bass; Mel Collins: soprano saxophone (4), tenor saxophone (9, 10).