What happens when some university-educated jazzbos empty their spit valves all over a fake book of rock & roll classics? Usually, a disaster: If we learned anything from last decade's lounge revolution, it's that adding a swishy beat and a horn section to, say, a Led Zeppelin song leads to a kind of spiritual death. But local quintet Chiaband largely makes it work throughout most of its debut record.
Since meeting through the jazz program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville more than ten years ago, the band has grafted Latin and Caribbean rhythms onto rock and country staples with enough musical chops to (almost) keep it from devolving into gimmickry. Cornucopius Musicus begins with its most adventurous reworking, Van Halen's "Dance the Night Away." Accordion supplants Eddie's echoing guitar, and while Chiaband lead vocalist Don Cole can't match Diamond Dave's arena-rock howl, the horn section adds some brassy resonance. The band turns J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" into a jump-blues number with little trouble, and Buck Owen's "Cryin' Time" gets a touch of Tijuana brass.
The trick with this CD is to imagine yourself hearing these interpretations while you're knee-deep in a martini or in the waning hours of a wedding reception; it's the only way to make peace with a ska version of the Commodores' deathless "Easy." Which isn't to say that there are no revelations here: The samba take on Welcome Back Kotter's theme suggests that John Sebastian should have dropped the omnichord for a set of maracas. The album also answers the question of how to make a fluff song even fluffier add some tight horns charts and a little Latin tinge, not to mention a pretty wide sense of humor. Chiaband has all three.
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