Roy Nathanson has been a true champion of new jazz songs, pieces that splice and dice the finger-popping aura of decades past with off-beat lyrics and contemporary touches. He’ll rhyme “reading Herman Hesse” with “my life is a mess,” and never look back. For 1994’s innovative In Love, he and the Jazz Passengers recruited artists from Jeff Buckley to Jimmy Scott; on his latest, Nathanson aligns bass with human beat-box for a rhythm section, includes poetic narrations and lots of a cappella singing, and often holds the sax, violin, and trombone until well into the tunes. Did somebody say innovative? Bobby Hebb’s ’60s hit “Sunny” and a wailing lamentation built on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear” are among the covers, and from Nathanson’s songbook comes a surreal yarn set in London, a Jewish boy’s childhood memories and a meditation on keeping faith in the beat while your hair thins and money evaporates. Nathanson and company harmonize well, but singing lead they come across more as pluggers selling the idea of the song than great interpreters born to sing them (or anything else). Still, until Nathanson hustles another project with A-list vocal stars, this will do just fine.
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