Jazz musicians have been incorporating elements of rock and roll for many decades now, but this must stand as one of the more audacious meetings of the two musics. Puttin' on the Ritz was originally a duet project with vocalist B.J. Rubin and drummer Kevin Shea which in this case has been expanded with some Hot Cup records regulars and friends: Moppa Elliott on bass, Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Sam Kulik on trombone, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Matt Mottel on keyboards. Covering the entirety of the Velvet Underground's famous White Light/White Heat album and converting it from avant-garde rock to avant-garde jazz is a tall order and the results are mixed, but they sure have a blast trying. Opening with the title track, things start off well as the structure of the song lends itself well to the instrumentalists turbo-charged riffing and Rubin chants out the lyrics with admirable gusto. The deadpan spoken word piece "The Gift" loses a little bit in the translation. Basically an tale of obsession set to music, Rubin drones the story in a monotone with with horns smearing and sprawling around him. "Lady Godiva's Operation" has Rubin crooning in a falsetto like John Cale on the original LP with quick interjections from other members of the group. "I Heard Her Call My Name" eschews the blistering guitar solo of the original version for an interesting arrangement with call and response vocals. It all culminates in the infamous side-long track "Sister Ray," the tale of drugs and debauchery that shocked listeners upon the original albums release. If it doesn't carry the same shock value forty plus years later, its still very edgy stuff, and works pretty well in this setting. The long running time allows the instrumentalists to be let off of the leash a little bit, with the horns growling and swaying and Mottel adding nice swaths of organ. Even though this album wasn't a complete success, you certainly have to give the group points for their fearlessness. Hot Cup may be the most interesting label in jazz right now, and the main reason is the risk taking that allows projects like this to flourish. White Light/White Heat - amazon.com
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