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20th Century Folk Selections

Todd Clouser's A Love Electric

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Album Review

Composer/guitarist Todd Clouser approaches jazz from the perspective of a young musician who has been influenced by popular music; he has an enlightened view of standards that is only beginning to take hold in jazz circles. His octet, A Love Electric, includes percussionist Cyro Baptista, bassist Aaron Cruz, trombonist Rick Parker, trumpeter Adam Meckler, Mark Aanderud on acoustic piano, Bryan Nichols on Rhodes, and Hernan Hecht on drums. A Love Electric uses the jazz tradition literally to approach pop, blues, and folk songs whose origins lie in the mid- to late 20th century. Clouser regards the original performances as "folkloric" in nature. The set opens with an anthemic reading of Malvina Reynolds. As a rock dynamic via Clouser's guitar riffs and the rhythm section introducing the piece, Meckler's trumpet takes the melody and strides it out with a sense of melancholy before the band funks it up with stinging guitars, keyboards, and a popping snare. Buddy Holly's "Everyday" begins as a soul-jazz number with percussion and a bassline introducing a lithe melody from the horns — Stephen Bernstein adds his own trumpet to this one — and Clouser's guitar paints the harmonic frame impressionistically. Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done" begins with an atmospheric, elastic intro before reverently quoting the melody in strict tempo. Clouser and company shift the balance, however, exploring the series of minor modes under the tune's surface. Nirvana's "All Apologies" is the longest cut here. It's performed as a straight-up jazz tune with wandering trumpet trills to match the languid guitar lines as a New Orleans-inspired rhythm section holds the fore. Lou Reed's "Heroin" begins as a lovely, trumpet-led midtempo ballad, its melody underscored by piano and tom-toms. When it begins to pick up tempo, Clouser's guitar adds tension and color before exploding into free jazz at the end. The Beastie Boys' "Gratitude" is a nasty, bluesy, funky jazz rocker with a kaleidoscopic textural palette, and may be the finest moment here. The set closes, appropriately enough, with "Release, the closing number from Pearl Jam's Ten. Clouser's treatment is radically different; its delicate piano and searing guitar lyricism, coupled with Cruz's bowed bass, suggests something more languid and inwardly beautiful , replacing Eddie Vedder's brooding vocal. That's a jazz musician's job, to find the hidden elements in any song and bring them to light. Clouser and A Love Electric do this with verve, humor, warmth, and chops that are enviable. 20th Century Folk Selections is the first of three albums to be issued on the Royal Potato Family label this year; based on its sheer quality, anticipation for the other two is high.

20th Century Folk Selections, Todd Clouser's A Love Electric
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