Album Reviews

James Carter, et al – Gold Sounds

(Brown Brothers) UK release date: 27 September 2005

Have you ever sat awake at night, desperately curious as to what a jazz interpretation of Pavement songs would sound like? No, me neither – and I’m a rather large Pavement fan.

Well, the clever bods at Brown Brothers did, and that’s why they’re the sans culottes to my Louis XIV. Bravo, says I, for taking a chance on something so finger-snappingly fiendish I wish I had thought of it myself.

James Carter – the Ronaldinho of contemporary jazz – takes centre stage as the Malkmus of this dream team ensemble, his mastery of all things brassy translating seamlessly the unpredictable, veering vocal of Santa Monica’s premier Anglophile.

Cyrus Chestnut, Ali Jackson and Reginald Veal complete the line-up for a collection tackling a bold range of Pavement material; from the off-kilter, prototypical My First Mine to the era-final Platform Blues via the likes of Stereo, Here and, of course, Cut Your Hair.

So how does it all work? Do these jazz interpretations, as the sleevenotes suggest, strip away conceptions of plaid-clad slackery to leave us with nothing but the songwriting genius behind one of the 90’s very best discographies? Well, yes… and no.

Let’s just establish something – this is bonafide jazz, the kind of free-riffing soundscapes that would make Jamie Cullum bow his head in shame. Carter adheres to the blueprint for just as long as it takes the listener to recognise the song before breaking out in all his scattish glory: were it not for the rock steady backing, you’d often be hard-pressed to pinpoint the tracks at all.

It can, as such, be a little daunting for the jazz novice at times, though there are moments of universal appeal; Here’s lounge-style reworking on Gold Sounds is easily as melancholy as any version previous, and Platform Blues’ implicit jaunt lends itself perfectly to the jazz medium.

Sticking with the more obtuse passages will yield results in time, but it’s questionable whether or not anyone but the most sincere Pavement afficionadoes will have the patience to do so. After all, you only get what you give. Wait, that wasn’t Pavement…

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