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'Gold Sounds': Where Jazz Meets Alt-Rock

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Saxophonist James Carter has recorded tributes to Billie Holiday and guitarist Django Reinhardt, among others. On a new record called "Gold Sounds," he and a trio of famous players take on the music of the alternative rock band Pavement. Critic Tom Moon has this review.

(Soundbite of music)

TOM MOON reporting:

These days jazz musicians are looking all over the place for inspiration. The pianist Brad Mehldau has built a little cottage industry reworking Nick Drake and Radiohead tunes. The Bad Plus, a New York trio, made its reputation with bombastic treatments of Black Sabbath and others. But this new disc featuring the saxophonist James Carter is maybe the most extreme example of popular music being reimagined by jazz players.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: It takes a certain imagination to arrive at that frenetic sound, especially when this is the starting point.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh. Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh. Darling, don't you go and cut your hair. Do you think it's going to make him...

MOON: That's probably the most famous song on Pavement's 1994 indie rock breakthrough "Crooked Rain." Carter says he first heard it watching MTV's "Beavis & Butt-head." And when the "Gold Sounds" group convened to brainstorm, he suggested it almost on a whim.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: The other musicians didn't really know the music of Pavement, but they didn't scoff at the songs written by guitarist Stephen Malkmas. Instead keyboardist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Ali Jackson approached the songs as they would the compositions of Thelonious Monk. They studied them. They watched a documentary on the band. And then, once the four musicians had Pavement in their ears, they started jamming.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: This isn't another `tiptoe through the tribute' kind of jazz date. It's not a ploy for commercial success either. If James Carter and his cohorts wanted that, they might have done a smooth jazz version of Beck or something. This is fire-breathing music in the tradition of free-jazz legends Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp that sends the messy spirit of Pavement down roads the rockers could never have imagined. It's also the most thrilling improvised music I've heard all year.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The CD is called "Gold Sounds" from saxophonist James Carter. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.