Covers (for Koch Jazz January 26th, 2000)

by Derk Richardson

At the rate Kamikaze Ground Crew cranks out albums, we can expect the all-star band’s next pit stop around 2006. That’s OK, because there’s enough musical and emotional content under these Covers to fuel high-altitude listening for years to come. Originally organized to accompany the acrobatic antics of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, KGC recorded its first LP in 1985. Before Covers the rambunctious septet had produced only two other CDs, 1990’s The Scenic Route and 1993’s Madam Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. In the meantime, the personnel has shifted around original members Gina Leishman (accordion, saxes, bass clarinet, Hammond organ, vocals), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, saxes, electric guitar, balalaika, Hammond organ), and Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet). Since the last outing, tenor and soprano saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum has returned (replacing Ralph Carney), and trombonist Art Baron, tuba player Marcus Rojas, and drummer Kenny Wollesen have come on board.

Whereas previous KGC recordings featured mostly original Leishman and Wieselman compositions, Covers showcases the brilliant way they and Bernstein arrange other people’s material. Opening with a dreamy version of a pop tune from Bhutan, Covers turns pieces by Stockhausen, Hendrix (“Electric Ladyland”), Satie, Huey “Piano” Smith (“Blow Wind Blow” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia”), Eisler and Brecht, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo into vehicles for extended collective gliding and individual soaring, consistent with the idiosyncratic interpretative styles of other bands that have featured these players, such as the Lounge Lizards, Spanish Fly, Sex Mob, Hieroglyphics Ensemble, and the Carla Bley big band. A hybrid of jazz, modern classical, rock, avant-cabaret, and New Orleans R&B, KGC’s music yields pleasure on its own terms, much like that of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Mothers of Invention, or Willem Breuker Kollektief, its bent but beautiful structures providing cover from the mainstream culture’s hail of mediocrity.