Jazz Passengers | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jazz Passengers

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One cofounder describes the Jazz Passengers as a synthesis of their own manic and depressive personalities. The group's eclectic, at times hyperventilated range gives the band a gloss that verges on trendiness. And the bristly energy emanating from its front line--sax, trombone, vibes, and violin--has plenty of lower-Manhattan glamour but not much classic Manhattan romance. For all these reasons, the prospect of the Jazz Passengers In Love, as their new album on High Street declares, raises eyebrows; so does the presence of an unlikely bevy of vocalists, with performances that include the hermaphrodite stylings of Jimmy Scott, the street-gospel punch of Chicago's Mavis Staples, and the icy symmetry of that old blondie Deborah Harry somewhere in the middle. This wide sweep of vocal styles takes full advantage of the Passengers' versatility--kinetic rhythms set against slow-moving horn smears here, the unmistakable late-night smoke of vibes and low tenor sax there--but it also results in perhaps the most unified album in their discography. After all, this one has a theme, revealed in and developed by more than a dozen new compositions, featuring lyrics by such quirky wordsmiths as David Cale, Bob Dorough, and guitarist Arto Lindsay. Deborah Harry is accompanying the Passengers on most of their tour; in Chicago they'll have the stronger voice and more expressive power of D.K. Dyson, and Mavis Staples may also drop by to re-create her own quite remarkable (and quite odd) contribution to the album. Monday, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jay Blakesberg.

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