Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Get Your Kicks

You don’t have to be on Route 66 to get your Kicks (Thirty Tigers Records) on the new Rickie Lee Jones. She’s as iconoclastic, idiosyncratic, and deliciously oddball as she always was. Her voice, at 64-years-old, sounds just as good as ever. (It’s been four years since her last album.) She totally transcends Bad Company’s 1974 “Bad Company.” She done stole it right out from under them like how k.d. lang stole “Cryin’” from Roy Orbison. It belongs to her now. In adding such gravitas to what was once simple, macho posturing, she places the song in league with Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” (Ditto for her version of Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun.) She’s so magical that she can even take maudlin fare like America’s 1974 “Lonely People” and Skeeter Davis’ 1962 “End Of The World” and make them finally palatable. (It’s in her phrasing.) But the four true gems, the four songs that I will keep coming back to time and time again, are Dean Martin’s 1960 “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” (“I could’ve done a whole album of Dean Martin covers,” she told me), the 1952 Benny Goodman hit “Nagasaki” (where she’s like a one-woman Andrews Sisters), “Mack The Knife” (from the 1928 Threepenny Opera) and Johnny Ray’s 1951 “Cry.” Nobody, including Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, Louis Armstrong, or the dozens of other singers who ever attempted these last four jewels, approaches The Divine Miss J when it comes to pure off-kilter alt.soul. (You can see her do it live in Newark, October 15, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Victoria Theatre.)

Dude Can Play

Multi-instrumentalist-composer-author-educator Mark Sherman can really swing on the vibraphone, but on My Other Voice (Miles High Records), he plays piano…and, man, does he play! It helps to have such A-List talent as alto sax man Vincent Herring, bassists Ray Drummond/Dan Chmielinski, drummer Carl Allen, and trombonist Nana Sakamoto fleshing out the ideas on his originals and adding their own spins on a bevy of well-chosen covers. Maybe being a Julliard professor for 12 years gave him the acuity to pick these gems. Maybe after writing a book called Skills For The Poetic Language Of Jazz Improvisation, he instinctively knew to pick Horace Silver’s “Juicy Lucy,” Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and, especially, Cedar Walton’s “Hindsight.”

What Kind Of Music Is This?

There’s no describing the music on Ben Goldberg’s Good Day For Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic Records). Avant-Garde to the max, the composer/clarinetist has teamed up with poet Dean Young to create a swirling carnival of a dozen tracks. Let’s just let Goldberg himself (from his liner notes) explain. “This project is/was what we nowadays might refer to as `meta’; music inspired by poetry and performed while the poet who inspired it sat typing new poems inspired by the music he inspired!” (Those poems are included in the packaging.) Wilco guitarist Nels Cline shines as does trumpeter Ron Miles. With no rhythm section, the music floats in no discernable fashion, touching upon pre-jazz, ragtime, rock, dance, tango, Klezmer, surf, exotica, folk, balladry, blues, Monk, classical, and minimalism. Do you dare?

The Proggiest Of Prog-Rock

Displace by Olli Hirvonen (Ropeadope Records) has the Finnish guitarist, 31, realizing his long-held Deep Purple fantasies, while displaying an organic aptitude for Mahavishnu Orchestra-era John McLaughlin crossed with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. File this one squarely unto the progressive-rock banner with not-so-subtle hints of what they used to call noise rock. Based in Brooklyn, Olli—along with pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell—has patterned an abruptly flowing (plenty of stops and starts) mix of endangered-species instrumental prog. He likes bandmates “who aren’t afraid to combine things and take risks” yet “I wasn’t consciously trying to combine everything. I was more just accepting what is already there.” To that end, “Faction” must have been maddeningly hard to play, what with its poly-rhythms within constantly shifting sections. Listing Nels Cline as an inspiration as well as Sonic Youth “and other explorers” like Ralph Towner and the even more way-out saxophonist Tim Berne, Olli, who earned his Master’s Degree in 2013 at the Manhattan School of Music, puts together seemingly disparate rock forms into a cohesive and ultimately satisfying whole.

New Jersey Hall Of Fame

Congratulations are in order for Southside Johnny (from Neptune), The Smithereens (from Carteret and Scotch Plains), and actor Jason Alexander (from Livingston) as they will be inducted for excellence in the Performing Arts at the 11th annual New Jersey Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies at the Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park boardwalk on October 27. When contacted, Southside Johnny told AQ, “I wish my parents were alive to see this. Then again, they’d probably just make fun of me.” The late Jaws author Peter Benchley (from Princeton), sports columnist Jerry Izenberg (from Neptune), Game Of Thrones author George R.R. Martin (from Bayonne), and photographer Timothy White (from Fort Lee) will be honored in the Arts and Letters portion of the evening. Names from business, public service, and sports will also be inducted (including former NFL star Harry Carson of the Giants, from Franklin Lakes). An “Unsung Hero” will be named later in October. The event is open to the public. For more information: https://njhalloffame.org/.

Princeton Jazz

It’s called “Jazz At Princeton University” and its eclectic new season starts October 12 with brilliant alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Tiger Quartet. Not only is he the head of the department at Princeton, but his last album—Bird Calls—was one of the best jazz albums of 2015. November 8 is also a date to remember as Sara Serpa’s Intimate Strangers will perform for free. Serpa (pictured) is a unique vocalist-composer from Portugal and her Strangers include poet Emmanuel Iduma from Nigeria. The shows—some ticketed, some free—will continue on until May. For more information: https://jazzatprinceton.com/.