***Available on iTunes
by Adam Greenberg
Cross-pollination between jazz and pop music has become something of a mini-trend in the last few years, ranging from interesting fusions and covers on smaller labels up to a high-exposure Grammy for Herbie Hancock's renditions of Joni Mitchell songs. In the same vein, Los Angeles-based sax player Tom Luer reworks a handful of major hits into easygoing West Coast modern jazz on Project Popular. This is light, airy music fresh from the cafes more than the nightclubs, and seemingly opposed to the darker material Luer chose to cover. Aside from his own excellent compositions, Pearl Jam's dark classic "Jeremy," Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," and tidbits from Prince, Audioslave, and Coldplay are represented. The magic here, however, is in the skill with which the pieces are both rearranged (into light, almost happy pieces) and the skill with which the pieces are played by Luer's ensemble. Solos come only when they fit, strings dance lightly over melodic lines, and both lead and rhythm combine to find the ultimate goal -- pieces that sound simultaneously entirely new due to their lightness and arrangement styles, and entirely familiar due to their essential core.
__TOM LUER, PROJECT POPULAR
In his liner notes, woodwind expert Gary Foster refers to Tom Luer and his cohorts as “young Jazz artists,” but they’ve been around and play like well-seasoned veterans. Still, their youth is a factor in this music, as Luer acknowledges growing up with such Pop music groups as Pearl Jam, Prince, and Soundgarden, whose music he chose to employ as the impetus for this recording. The leader, an active performer and educator in the Los Angeles area, created his own Jazz arrangements of tunes by the aforementioned groups along with a song each by Coldplay and Prince and three of his own compositions. He manipulates the tunes’ original tempos, meters, rhythms, harmonies, and/or melodies in inventive ways that, combined with the band’s polished improvisations, result in fresh and interesting first-class Jazz.
Luer is a superb Michael Brecker-influenced tenorist. His beautiful sound is similar to Brecker’s, as are his general approach and mannerisms. And his formidable technique allows him to execute even the most challenging passages. Speaking of which, the virtuosic tenor/ guitar unison passage on Coldplay’s “Clocks” is remarkable for its accuracy. Guitarist Andrew Synowiec also plays fine mainstream Jazz guitar on such tracks as Luer’s “You Should Have Known,” but solos effectively with a distorted Rock sound on the leader’s Steps Ahead-suggesting “Mind the Gap.” Pianist Andy Langham impresses throughout on both acoustic and electric pianos. And drummer Dan Schnelle and bassist Edwin Livingston, required to provide a variety of rhythmic and percussive backgrounds,
do so with élan, including the latter’s tuneful bowed solo on Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”
Two of my favorite tracks are “Black Hole Sun,” with its lazy back-beat and blues-drenched tenor lines and Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones, with its quietly soulful soprano sax melody and rock-ballad ambiance.
Dick Crockett's "10 Picks" from JazzWeek's JazzProgList:
Saxophonist Tom Luer combines energies with guitarist Andrew Synowiec's voluptuous, tasteful runs, to Andy Langham's rapturous fender Rhodes. This is the kind of magnetism that delights with long contemporary bursts before a large audience at the Greek theater on a Saturday night. for this is an honest goodness thriving jam jazz band. Luer begins with a great version of Eddie Vedder's “Jeremy.”
A Luer original, “Mind The Gap” has all the kinetic elements and along with guitarist Andrew Synowiec's guitar riffs and back up by drummer Dan Schnelle's rapid counter balancing drum lines. The tune just cooks, catchy and tasteful with ample room for improvisation, as in Edwin Livingston's free acoustic bass line in “I'm Putting Me First.”
Tom Luer's “Project Popular” is full of dynamic energy and onstage flair that says these guy love creating music together.