Devoting an entire album to another artist's songs is a tradition with, let's say, a checkered history. It can be done out of anything from genuine love to simple goofy novelty. The results are sometimes honorable or even transcendent, other times often pointless copies or cheap money grabs (remember that early-noughties flood of string quartet tributes covering any band that played outside their own garage). Radiohead seemed to invite more covers than most, from the classical-ish piano treatments of Christopher O'Riley
to covers in jazz (a frequent choice of Brad Mehldau
) or bluegrass. The band is a common target for various reasons: writing harmonically adept pieces that naturally lend themselves to interesting variations, for one, as well as being unexplainably popular for a band so resolutely uncool and experimental. The question in any such case, then, is: what does the new artist bring to the familiar songs?
Argentinian pianist Marco Sanguinetti
lands firmly in the "honorable" category with this double CD, drawing most often from Kid A
(Capitol, 2000) while spanning the band's entire catalogue up to the perversely catchy "Burn the Witch." Since the jazz world puts such importance on malleability and reinvention, it's really the ideal milieu for exactly this treatment. Sanguinetti fittingly sidesteps any conventional combo format by omitting bass in favor of turntables. DJ Migma's presence is never too overt, but he adds shadings throughout with buzzing synths and electronics (often based on samples of the original songs, albeit distorted and remixed into an ambient background). He adds a sonic angle that both complements the analog instruments and stays perfectly in keeping with the source material, which often has more layered production and electronics than your usual rock band's to begin with.
Milena L'Argentiere's vocal contributions are sporadic but very noteworthy when they come, and surely make another bonus for listeners who don't always enjoy Thom Yorke's drunk-after-a-two-day-pub-crawl mumble. Her rich mid-range voice draws some deeper beauty out of the already-alluring "Weird Fishes" and finds an unexpectedly warm human slant to "Motion Picture Soundtrack." The strongest vocal is probably the titular "How to Disappear Completely," where Sanguinetti replaces the original cold synthesizer washes with lightly undulating bare-bones piano and the duo turn it vividly spare and haunting.
A few pieces are mostly-straightforward renditions or meandering improvisational vamps, but the primary strengths of Cómo Desaparecer Completamente
come when the band finds a hidden facet of a song we never knew it had before. Classical flourishes and expressive timing transform Radiohead's biggest hit "Creep" from the old mope-fest into a touching work of brooding elegance. "Everything in Its Right Place" now bounces through a sprightly club groove full of confusing rhythmic trickery. "Black Star" first gets slowed down to bring out the majesty in a more understated way, then builds to a happy coda that's even brighter than the original had. The high point of the affair comes early in disc two with "Paranoid Android," which enhances the piece's narrative swells into a picturesque epic suite building from spookiness to grandeur.
The album seems most geared to Radiohead fans intrigued by the prospect of jazzy adaptations, but should be no less appealing to curious jazz listeners if they can approach it without any associations (or maybe even if not). Hopefully it can succeed just as well for both camps in the end. To completely fresh ears it can still stand as a multi-faceted work that paints intelligent pictures in slightly unconventional tones. Like the most successful of tributes, Cómo Desaparecer Completamente
puts something familiar into a perspective both faithful and fascinatingly new.