Oddly enough just the other morning my lady friend asked me what sort of art decorated my bedroom walls when I was in high school. I thought about all the music I listened to back then and remembered the foldout of Elvis Costello that came in the jewel case of My Aim is True, but that was about it. Then a while later over breakfast I suddenly remembered in my first apartment when I was nineteen I had a poster of Miles Davis sitting cross-legged on a folding chair in the studio holding his trumpet and one of the cover of John Coltrane’s Blue Train.
I had come to learn of these two legendary jazz greats by way of two earlier greats, Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery. Reading Jack Kerouac had introduced me to Charlie Parker and a guitarist friend had turned me onto Wes Montgomery. At the time I was alternating between bands like Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Pavement and countless others as well as Ornette Coleman, Milt Jackson, Charles Mingus, etc. etc. etc. I kept my interests separate and never got into any sort of jazz-rock fusion stuff and I abhorred jam bands.
But that was then and this is now and I feel my maturity has in some ways opened my mind to a few more inches to perhaps not enjoy but rather appreciate styles of musical collaboration that I may have shied away from in the past. Listening to the mostly Brooklyn based jazz-pop quartet The Jazz Thieves first record Brooklyn Elegy further fanned the flames of this softening of my once cold musical heart. It reminded me that certain styles of music can peacefully co-exist and turn out some pretty lasting and meaningful tunes.
Brooklyn Elegy opens with the title track, a snazzy mix of classical jazz piano interlaced with irresistible stand-up bass riffs and flits of sax. Over this vocalist/pianist Matt Robbins croons like a ’50s lounge lizard. And though he sings the classic tales of a man looking for love he does so in a tongue and cheek fashion. “I’m not some weird monster / nothing’s wrong with me,” he cries out on “I’m Hopeful.” Then comes the slow, patient “Lullaby for 26,” reminiscent of a musical theater number in the way it unfolds. This theatrical experience continues on through most of “Cayuga” and spills into the slow and smoky “Aftermath of a Bar Fight.” Brooklyn Elegy finishes with the Sergio Mendez-like “Friday.”
There is no denying each of The Jazz Thieves four members can certainly play their respective instruments school-taught precision. The drums sound like jazz drums, the bass like jazz bass, and so on and so forth. But given all this talent and Robbins’ borderline flamboyant vibrato, they never seem to get their hands dirty. Some of the time the songs on Brooklyn Elegy come off as something you’d hear from a band playing a wedding. Somewhere between the notes I sensed I could hear them wanting to break out and be free. If they ever decide to record those sessions, I’d be all ears.
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