The L.A.-based quintet Jazz Punks’ thing is to create jarring music by mashing up classic songs of straight ahead jazz with diametrically opposed classic songs of rock. Practitioners of jazz-rock fusion toss both forms of music into a blender and puree them together, but the Jazz Punks’ rough blend leaves whole chunks of each style intact and that’s just how they want it.
Thus on their upcoming album Smashups, “Clash-Up” alternates strains of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” with “Take Five” riffs and maybe a quote from “Giant Steps.” “No Blues” is juxtaposed with “I Can See For Miles (called “I Can See Miles,” get it?). Perhaps the most clever trick comes from laying over the theme from “A NIght In Tunisia” on top of the main riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and make it sync together perfectly. Then again, hearing one of my favorite Wayne Shorter tunes (“Footprints”) and a choice Beatles deep cut (“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”) simultaneously sounds pretty sweet to me, too.
Still, this begs the question: is this exercise some sort of a cheap gimmick? Well, gee, no one seemed to think that in the 90s when TJ Kirk was forcing together Thelonius Monk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and James Brown. They avoided the charge by finding some common thread that runs through all of these artists and use that as a basis to recast even the most over-covered songs in a fresh and creative way. And they did it with some terrific musicianship. The Jazz Punks do all that, too.
Jazz has always been the ultimate mashup music; originally cobbled together from elements of Europen and African music structures, we’ve seen over many decades how some of the more cutting edge figures in jazz liked to fiddle with adding things like classical, rock, soul and klezmer into the mix. So, in that sense, the Jazz Punks are merely practicing a lengthy tradition with jazz. Only, they make it a little more fun.
Smashups, their debut album, goes on sale May 15 . Visit the Jazz Punks’ website for more info.