The Six Strangest Crossover Attempts By Jazz Musicians

by

comment

About a week ago, our Northwest sister paper Seattle Weekly ran a post about the diminishing popularity of jazz. Watch for a lengthy reply by RFT Music's devilishly handsome resident jazz guitar school dropout later this week. In the meantime, here are the six most bizarre crossover attempts by jazz musicians. Let us know your favorites in the comments below.

See also: -Vijay Iyer is Excited to Return to St. Louis, Where a Track from The New Album Was Born -Vijay Iyer and the Outreachification of Jazz -Jazz: Meet the 2012 RFT Music Award Nominees

6. Herbie Hancock - "Tomorrow Never Knows" (w/ Dave Matthews) In 2010, Herbie Hancock released The Imagine Project, a series of collaborations with pop artists, mainly focused on Beatles-esque material. Kind of a cheap play, really, considering Herbie was floating off the success of River: The Joni Letters, his Album Of The Year Grammy winning take on Joni Mitchell tracks with guest vocalists. The tracks on Imagine are questionable at best, like the smoov funk "Imagine" featuring (deep breath) Pink, Seal, Indie Arie, Konono No 1, and Omour Sangare. But Herbie's version of Revolver's landmark "Tomorrow Never Knows" featuring (deep breath for a different reason) Dave Matthews is plain awful, a swampy shuffle with by-the-book psychedelia effects. The Beatles' original version is a transcendent acid trip; this one is yoga background music.

5. Brecker Brothers - Heavy Metal BeBop Legend has it that Randy and Michael Brecker played a gig with John Lennon and Yoko Ono shortly after the Beatles disbanded. John and Yoko were not present for rehearsals, and the Brecker Brothers heard Yoko sing for the first time at the actual concert. According to this legend, the trumpeter brother Randy found her voice humorous and was unable to laugh because he was holding a long note, so he peed himself on stage. I had a similar reaction when I first saw the record sleeve for Heavy Metal Be-Bop. This record is not what it seems; it's not a jazzed up "Iron Man," but that would probably be better. It's a stock jazz funk record with Terry Bozzio on drums, and the "heavy metal" part is just a pun for the robot costume on the cover. This record is bizarre because it seems like an attempted crossover but doesn't sound like one. 4. John McLaughlin & Carlos Santana - Love Devotion Surrender John McLaughlin was well on his way to (oxymoron alert) jazz stardom with his Mahavishnu Orchestra when he and Carlos Santana buddied up on a tribute to John Coltrane's masterpiece A Love Supreme. The songs are Coltrane's but the vibe is all pseudo Latin shredding. In other words, it sounds like an instrumental Mars Volta record.

3. Pat Metheny - Zero Tolerance For Silence Usually jazz artists try to pander to a wider audience, but Pat Metheny did the opposite in 1994 with Zero Tolerance For Silence, a solo guitar noise record not far detached from Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Metheny already released records that sold shockingly well for being filed in the jazz section, and this comes off as his attempt for cred. A plug from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore the hype sticker placed atop the album cover reiterates this motivation. This is Metheny stepping out from new age dad jazz to appeal to an audience who thinks he's lame. It didn't work, but if Lee Ranaldo released this album, people would at least pretend to like it.

2. Miles Davis - On The Corner Thinking about On The Corner, I can't help but see comparisons between Miles Davis and Kanye West. Both are bona fide artists who are held back at times by their own personalities, and both are very aware of the black/white dynamic of culture and music. At certain times, both were accused of being "too white;" Miles with Bitches Brew, Kanye with "Diamonds From Sierra Leone." Kanye supposedly reacted with "Gold Digger," a song poking fun at baby mamas and child support. Miles reacted with On The Corner, a psychedelic funk record that was his attempt to reconnect with the black youth. And nothing says early 70s black youth like a sitar with a wah pedal. With that said, this is an amazing record, coming at a time where even if Miles had a terrible idea he was incapable of producing something terrible. There's just a massive dissonance between the intention of On The Corner and the final result. 1. Bill Frisell and Vernon Reid - Smash & Scatteration Seattle spaghetti western jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and Vernon Reid of the rock band Living Colour made one of the weirdest albums ever. Ever. In fact, this may not even qualify as a crossover because after listening to it a few times a year for about five years, I still don't know what it is. The closest comparison I can think of is a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones record spun while being peed on. Or maybe the sound of a chicken dying in the factory from Herbie Hancock's "Rock It" video. Each guitarist gets an atonal solo noise track, there's a duet that sounds like gypsy jazz, and all the drums are produced by synth guitars on a drum setting. People who think free jazz is out there should listen to Smash & Scatteration; this record is proof of how weird musicians can be when they think they're doing something sort of normal.