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CD Review - The Jazz Passengers, Individually Twisted
32 Records

By Mark Towns
Published: March 13 1997, Houston Press

What can you do in the '90s with a couple of the biggest new wave rock stars of the late '70s and early '80s? Recycle them as jazz singers! That's what New York City's Jazz Passengers have done with Deborah Harry and Elvis Costello on this, their seventh CD. Recognizable names such as Harry's and Costello's would probably boost sales no matter how they sounded, but as it happens, they aren't half bad here. Being backed by some of the hippest, freshest jazzers from New York's avant-garde scene certainly helps.

The Jazz Passengers began in 1987 as a collaboration between saxophonist Roy Nathanson and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. Along with violinist Rob Thomas, vibist Bill Ware, drummer E.J. Rodriquez and bassist Brad Jones, Nathanson and Fowlkes offer up some of the freshest sounding jazz on the scene today. Much of their music, with its unexpected tempo changes, unusual instrumental pairings and soloing by two or more instruments at one time, recalls some of Charles Mingus's great work.

Individually Twisted's opening track, "Maybe I'm Lost," features Harry's voice moving from a whispery coo to a throaty growl before kicking into great solos by Thomas and Ware; "Li'l Darlin'," a Neil Hefti/Jon Hendricks composition, is the essence of cool, and Harry really sounds good on it. However, her limitations are exposed on the ballad "Angel Eyes," the stark arrangement of which leaves her nowhere to hide. "Aubergine," one of the two numbers in which Costello steps in as vocalist, is a cool but quirky Mingus-like tune. There's also a throwaway version of the Blondie hit "The Tide Is High."

But don't think about Blondie, and don't think too much about Harry or Costello. Just enjoy this for the good jazz that it is. (*** )

The Jazz Passengers (with Deborah Harry) perform Sunday, March 16, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue.

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