Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Roy Nathanson, Curtis Fowlkes and the Jazz Passengers [extended]

  • Broken Night/Red Light [Disques de Crepuscle, 1987] B+
  • The Coming Great Millenium [Knitting Factory, 1992] **
  • In Love [High Street, 1994] *
  • Individually Twisted [32 Records, 1997] A-
  • Live in Spain [32 Records, 1998] **
  • Fire at Keaton's Bar and Grill [Six Degrees, 2000] *
  • Sotto Voce [Aum Fidelity, 2006] *
  • Subway Moon [Yellowbird, 2009] **
  • Complicated Day [Enja/Yellowbird, 2014] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Broken Night/Red Light [Disques de Crepuscle, 1987]
Sax man Nathanson is the second-best composer and best improviser (though not player) in the Lounge Lizards, trombonist Fowlkes his fellow traveler. Here they indulge their fondness for jazz of the real variety without sacrificing their sense of humor or taste in packaging. The tunes are warm but never corny, a distinction lost on the brothers Lurie. The free passages are kept to a modest minimum. The covers include a health-food "Rascal You" and Yiddish "Speedo." B+

Roy Nathanson & Anthony Coleman: The Coming Great Millenium [Knitting Factory, 1992]
the avant-garde klezmerized ("You Took Advantage of Me," "Birds/Jews") **

The Jazz Passengers: In Love [High Street, 1994]
artful artsongs, arty artsongs--nu? ("Dog in Sand," "Think of Me," "Imitation of a Kiss") *

The Jazz Passengers Featuring Deborah Harry: Individually Twisted [32 Records, 1997]
A friend of Roy Nathanson since long before this band began a decade ago, I've loved the Passengers on stage, where the saxophonist kept the interactions grooving like the comic actor he also is, and found their records arty. Here the artiest track is Elvis Costello's (and bassist Brad Jones's) long-lined "Aubergine," the runner-up "Imitation of a Kiss," originally the pick to click on In Love, counted the Passengers' pop move in 1994 because it had lyrics. From Nathanson and Harry's slantwise opener to Blondie's loopy closer, from David Cale's mock-'40s exotica to Nathanson's jump blues homage, its pleasures are various and manifest, and if they're over the head of the average Costello completist, that's because this pop move isn't aimed at any kind of average. Starting with the girl singer, it's real musicians tweaking real sophistication into something genuinely cooler--and warmer. A-

The Jazz Passengers Featuring Deborah Harry: Live in Spain [32 Records, 1998]
Who says a rock chick can't sing jazz music? ("Fathouse," "Dog in Sand"). **

Roy Nathanson: Fire at Keaton's Bar and Grill [Six Degrees, 2000]
The saloon of dreams goes up in smoke ("Bar Stool Paradise," "Jazz Night at Keaton's"). *

Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce [Aum Fidelity, 2006]
Narrative with jazz, jazz as narrative ("By the Page," "It's Alright"). *

Roy Nathanson: Subway Moon [Yellowbird, 2009]
Jazz Passenger as subway passenger, in simple spoken word and typically tricky music ("Subway Noah," "Party"). **

Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce: Complicated Day [Enja/Yellowbird, 2014]
For three decades on multiple cusps, saxophonist-bandleader-actor-storyteller-educator Nathanson has shown a proclivity for song that he's regularly explored but only once indulged--on the Deborah Harry-showcasing, Elvis Costello-featuring Jazz Passengers showcase Individually Twisted two decades ago. But those were much more arranged and avant--they deliberately didn't flow. This album is relaxed; its jokes are friendlier; companionable vocalist Nathanson cedes the lead often and slips comfortably into his spoken-word shtick. "Simon" recapitulates Simon Says; "Slow Boat to China" is sillier than that; "No Storytelling"'s composed free-jazz messing around generates a satirically overwrought recitation about narrative technique before returning to the previously scheduled program. The topper is a charmingly off-key "I Can See Clearly Now" by Nathanson's 18-year-old son Gabriel. I still prefer Individually Twisted in theory. But this is the one I'll play next. A-