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Quintessence of Quincy is a Sixties Sugar Rush
For those who aren’t jazz aficionados, Quincy Jones is best known as a producer for pop blockbusters such as Michael Jackson’s Thriller and “We Are the World” or even the theme song for Sanford and Son; this underscores his versatility, but the jazz realm was where he established his reputation, distinguishing himself with spotless studio recordings, dynamic arrangements and incredibly catchy compositions.
This new collection shines the light on a particularly fruitful period of his in the early ’60s, jam-packing onto four CDs eight full-length albums and a 4-song EP originally released on the labels Mercury, Impulse! and Roulette.
For the most part, it’s straightforward big band jazz with a huge nod to Duke Ellington, and not just on the Ellington medley on At Basin St. East with singer Billy Eckstine. Jones tends to favor a concise, concentrated approach that is less exploratory and more sculpted, with short-and-sweet solos. A few particulars stand out, including the themed Around the World with ersatz ethnic exercises (“Hot Sake,” “Africana,” “Manolete De Espana”) that are a few paces away from being kitsch. Live at Newport 1961 takes things a little more fast-and-loose than expected, away from his typical studio perfection, and on You’re Mine You, vocalist Sarah Vaughan takes the spotlight on standards like “Fly Me to the Moon” and “On Green Dolphin Street.” Perhaps the finest of the conventional jazz albums here is The Quintessence, tight and potent, with a speedy, vigorous take on Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.”
However, the album that this writer can’t stop playing is Big Band Bossa Nova, which opens with “Soul Bossa Nova,” a track that found new life in the first Austin Powers movie (the sequels used re-recordings) as a perfect cinematic match. It’s both irresistibly cheesy and bold, with a cutesy flute motif contrasted with big brass explosions; the eccentric reedist Rahsaan Roland Kirk provides a flute solo, mirroring the notes with intoned throat-hums.
The whole album is a sugar-rush joy, alternately frolicking and driving through originals and standards like Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado” or a percussion-heavy, bustling take on “On the Street Where You Live,” and it alone is worth the price of admission.
The Detroit group Protomartyr is perhaps an example of the difficulties of not wanting to be pigeonholed into discrete rock categories, and as a result, the band doesn’t go far enough ardently into any certain direction. It’s a complicated stew of conflicted attitudes, with punk roots stripped of unbridled passion and transplanted post-punk methods in disorienting contexts.
The group’s new album on the Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art, Under Color of Official Right, doesn’t accurately reflect the outfit’s strident, enjoyable live act and seems a bit tentative, unsettled and not so comfortable in a studio setting. There are some good moments here, but we shouldn’t have to wait as long for them to arrive.
The listener’s first impression will probably be, “What is up with that singer?” Lead vocalist Joe Casey has an oddball style, seemingly mixing the austere, blasé chill of Simon Topping from the post-punk-funk group A Certain Ratio, the anglophile enunciation of Robert Pollard and a pseudo-croon, suggesting a manicured man in a velvet smoking jacket wearing Doc Martens boots.
Instead of capturing the raw abandon of a stage performance, the album offers roughness in the form of studio engineering; the drumming from Alex Leonard is distorted with chopped peaks, Scott Davidson’s bass lines are penetrating and Greg Ahee’s guitars can be alternately ghostly, medicated or gloriously shattering.
Rather than confrontational punk exchanges, on “Tarpeian Rock,” Casey rattles off a list of smart-ass character barbs, throwing plastic daggers like “rich crusties, adults dressed as children,” and when the band attains a good balance, like on “What the Wall Said,” the listener can hear its strengths. Protomartyr’s second album didn’t quite meet all of this writer’s expectations, and he wonders when the group will just record a live album to properly capture its essence.