JAZZ PASSENGERS WITH DEBORAH HARRY
Just along for the ride? The Jazz Passengers toss enough irony and lighthearted lunacy into their music to give that impression, but their careful arrangements, clever compositions, and bristling front line--alto sax, trombone, vibes, and violin--suggest otherwise. In all their lower-Manhattan splendor, the members of this sextet lace their infectious hyper-bop with a wiggy humor and silly bits of theater, both of which have been enhanced lately by the semisincere vocals of that old Blondie, Deborah Harry; as a result, the spotlight tends to reflect off (rather than shine on) their musicianship. So you might almost overlook the edgy itch of Roy Nathanson's alto or the boisterous trombone offered up by Curtis Fowlkes. Bill Ware's splintered vibraphone work helps the rhythm section hold things together without undue constraint; add in the solid violinistics of newcomer Rob Thomas and you have a band versatile enough to traverse territory that ranges from smoky late-night atmosphere to the hallucinatory sunlight of the Mexican border. The Passengers' looseness plays a big part in the success of their own compositions, which sound like long-lost collaborations between Sun Ra and Ernie Kovacs. But even their covers come out of left field, such as a goofy three-tempo arrangement of the dreamy Count Basie hit "Li'l Darlin'." The band cuts a wide swath across the repertoire on its upcoming album Individually Twisted (32 Records), which features other jazz standards ("Angel Eyes" and "Jive Samba"), a couple of guest vocals by Elvis Costello, and Harry's old favorite "The Tide Is High." One of the members once described the Jazz Passengers as a synthesis of their own manic and depressive personalities, and that still works for me. Sunday, 7:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by David Gahr.