The route through Graceland to a jazz concept album is a treacherous one. Popular music icons of varying stylessuch as The Beatles and Joni Mitchellhave been transcribed with varying degrees of success. The more successful interpretations of The Crimson Jazz Trio benefited from their actual ties to King Crimson and outstanding musicianship. Now, pianist Peter Madsen's CIA Trio ventures into potentially contentious territory with Elvis Never Left the Building and pulls off a brilliantly executed coup. Madsen re-harmonizes ten Elvis Presley staples with the help of bassist Herwig Hammerl and drummer Alfred Vogel, both members of the Austrian based Collective of Improvising Artists (CIA).
If the Elvis theme has the feel of being potentially kitschy, know that Madsen has never been given to mixing music with gimmickry and Elvis Never Left the Building is a genuine tribute rather than a commercial walk-through. Madsen has worked with saxophonists Stan Getz and Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Don Cherry, and bassist Mario Pavone to name just a few. His solo tribute to Thelonious MonkSphere Essence: Another Side of Monk (Playscape Recordings, 2003) was deservedly heralded. His inventiveness and forward thinking approach are well documented through his work with the great saxophonist Thomas Chapin on the multi-disc collection Never Let Me Go: Quartets '95 & '96 (Playscape Recordings, 2012).
From the opening, it's evident that Madsen is not fronting a jazz-tinged cover band; the closet he comes to a vocal is the mournful howl that opens and closes "Hound Dog." The songs on Elvis Never Left the Building fall into two categories of reinvention. There are a number, such as the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman classic "Surrender" and "Heartbreak Hotel" that retain familiar melodies but the tempos and arrangements have been changed substantially. A case in point is "Love Me Tender" whichin its original Presley versioncould only be described as maudlin. Madsen's trio adds a bass-driven groove and quickly turns it into a pumped up swing oriented piece. Other pieces have been so effectively redeveloped as to be almost unrecognizable; "Devil in Disguise" has Madsen rolling up and down the range of the keyboard while Hammerl and Vogel adventurously move from hot to cool tones. "Jailhouse Rock," Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" are completely restyled permutations of the originals.
With Elvis Never Left the Building fans of Presley can appreciate that homage has been paid to the "king." Those without a propensity to shake, rattle or roll, can rest assured this is purely a jazz outing with all the innovation and inventiveness that one would expect from the caliber of Madsen. He, Hammerl and Vogel closely scrutinize the originals and the place their own accent on revealing the melody from multiple points of view. The music is unadulterated and unpretentious and surprisingly intriguing in the hands of these complementary players.
Devil in Disguise; Love Me Tender; Suspicious Minds; Jailhouse Rock; Hound Dog; All Shook Up; Surrender; Heartbreak Hotel; Can’t Help Falling in Love; Don’t Be Cruel.
Peter Madsen: piano; Herwig Hammerl: double bass; Alfred Vogel: Drums, percussion.
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