Slow Poke

Redemption

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Many bop snobs would have us believe that all avant-garde jazz is nothing more than mindless, directionless noise. But it's foolish to make sweeping generalizations about any musical idiom. While there's nothing wrong with atonal free jazz, some of it is brilliant, listeners need to realize that not all avant-garde jazz is atonal. Avant-garde jazz can, in fact, be very melodic. A perfect example is Redemption by Slow Poke, an East Coast quartet that includes tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Blake, bassist Tony Scherr, drummer Kenny Wollesen, and a guitarist who simply goes by Tronzo. If Cecil Taylor, Charles Gayle, and Anthony Braxton are extremely avant-garde, Slow Poke is only mildly avant-garde. This diverse, generally impressive CD takes an inside/outside approach -- a lot more inside than outside -- and all of the tunes have discernible melodies. Much to its credit, Slow Poke as eclectic as it is musical; everything from North African and Middle Eastern music to blues, funk, and rock has influenced this 1998 session. Meanwhile, Slow Poke puts its interpretive powers to work on imaginative versions of Johnny Cash's "Redemption," Nirvana's "Been a Son," and the Rolling Stones' "Shine a Light," all of which lend themselves nicely to jazz makeovers. While many other jazz artists are content to inundate us with the same old Tin Pan Alley standards, Slow Poke realizes that rock and country songs can, in fact, be relevant to jazz. Redemption falls short of innovative, but it has a probing, adventurous spirit that was missing from many of the jazz recordings of the late '90s.

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