James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Reginald Veal/Ali Jackson: Gold Sounds (2005)
Of all the source material available to musicians nowadays, the indie-rock band Pavement probably wouldn't rank high on many jazz tribute lists. Nonetheless, James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Reginald Veal, and Ali Jackson recorded a striking album of the group's compositions over the course of two days last fall.
Clocking in at just over 44 minutes, Gold Sounds is an enthralling record with memorable melodies that leaves you with the desire to return very quickly for another go. And for those skeptical of jazz covers of indie-rock bandslike Melhdau, Osby, and others have done in creating new standards out of material by Bjork, Radiohead, Nick Drake, etc.Pavement should certainly be reevaluated as a source for quality material.
In the liner notes to Gold Sounds, Alan Suback answers the question of why a Pavement tribute, citing the group as possessing the finest collection of songs since the heyday of REM. Listening to Carter and Chestnut in particular illuminates this fact. The adapted material still carries the weight of Pavement's crafty musicality and melodicism, sometimes adrift in white noise, or pure and true. And while the Fender Rhodes and soprano saxophone rarely approach the shady mysticism that some of Pavement's recordings carry, they certainly invoke the same wickedly playful muse.
"Cut You Hair" is fine example of all this and may be the one song casual listeners will recognize since the original broke into MTV's rotation in the mid-'90s. Opening with a harried soprano solo echoing KC that subsides into a luscious blues bed of Chestnut on organ and Jackson on drums, "Cut Your Hair" settles for a bit accompanied with doo-wop style vocalizations (the only ones on the album). And while the vocals may not be everyone's cup of tea, as Carter begins his searching solo, it's easy to understand why he is one of the craftiest saxophonists playing today.
Thankfully, despite all his prodigious technique, Carter does not play everything on every track, following the music rather than pyrotechnics. After Chestnut's soul-drenched Fender Rhodes feature, the band shifts gear into a pure, bouncy pop sound that sounds completely different in pacing and tone from what has come before, but like the source material is wholly engaging all the same.
Every track has endearing values. "Blue Hawaiian" features some of the spacey sounds from early Pavement recordings, contributed by Chestnut on organ while Carter carries the entire melody in the bell of his tenor beautifully. The album closes with a solo piano rendition of "Trigger Cut," capping the disc succinctly with a performance that begs the question of when Chestnut will be recording regularly again.
Nonetheless, Gold Sounds doesn't give you everything the first time around. Like Pavement's recordings, what may seem complete is only a portion of the melody and musical ideas to which you ultimately want to return, because each time they hook you in a different way. In the end, the album provides a meaty dose of jazz that is as infectious as the pop from which it is derived.
Track Listing: Stereo; My First Mine; Cut Your Hair; Summer Babe; Blue Hawaiian; Here; Platform Blues; Trigger Cut.
Personnel: James Carter: tenor and soprano saxophones; Cyrus Chestnut: Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ; Reginald Veal: acoustic and electric bass, voice; Ali Jackson: drums, voice.