Originally formed as an offshoot of John Lurie's band The Lounge Lizards, The Jazz Passengers grew into a concern of their own in the 1990's by recording and touring widely. They have been less active lately, and this marks their first album in over ten years. The core group is made up of Marc Ribot on guitar, Sam Bardfeld on violin, Roy Nathanson on saxophone, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, and E.J. Rodriguez on drums and percussion. Everyone takes a turn singing and several special guests are featured on the album. Pop vocalist Elvis Costello guests on the first track, "Wind Walked By," which features tasty guitar and vibes with Costello spitting out the caustic vocals while saxophone probes with nice guitar under the vocalist, sighing and stinging. Strong horns and saxophones guitar usher in the well arranged "Seven," which builds nicely to a cacophonous yet logical conclusion. Dynamic cells and sections of music work well to keep the music moving forward and Ribot is excellent throughout. Things get a little funky on "Button Up" with the groove and vocals spiced by nice vibes and guitar accents. "Reunited" stays with the R&B groove, opening with guitar and speak singing like a Tom Waits pastiche, before developing into straight soulful vocals. Spare horns probe on "The National Anthem," picking up with strong guitar and drums, storming riffs that lead to an alto solo with nice guitar and drum support making for a cool instrumental performance and a highlight of the album. "Tell Me" starts with a cool percussive rhythm, with guitar accents. A male vocalist sings, wistful and yearning while trombone glides over the cool beat with background vibes shimmering, in a darkly hued manner and trombone with saxophone flirting with the melody. A spoken word section with strings and horn background opens "Spanish Harlem" morphing into spritely swinging version of song. Funky organ and drums propel the music, with swinging vibes over organ making for a cool sound, and Danish vocalist Susi Hyldgarrd sings pleasantly with strings and horns. Bonus tracks at the end of the album include "Think of Me," beginning with rapid fast improvisation, almost cartoonish in the energy and verve, breaking off for mid temp swinger vocals from Deborah Harry, framed by a violin solo that swings and swirls. Harry sings on the finale, a live version of "One Way or Another" where strutting horns along with Harry's vocals strut with confidence building dynamic fast instruments set against mid-tempo vocals. A decade plus layoff doesn't seem to have negatively effected the band at all. Combining strong progressive jazz with dashes of humor along the lines of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, the group makes a fun an accessible statement. Reunited - amazon.com
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