REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/16/2007
It's hard to shake the feeling that cross-genre covers are little more than novelties. Think of those bluegrass tributes to Aerosmith and you'll get the idea. On the other hand, sometimes these work better than they have a right to, such as Dolly Parton covering "Stairway to Heaven."
Because it is such an ingrained art form, jazz can get away with covering almost anything and make it sound cool. The recent Smooth Citizen album Shadows of the Fading Light attested to this, as it took little-known classic rock tunes and infused them with a fresh spin, somewhere between an homage and reinvention that the original artists no doubt would have applauded.
Whether they would applaud Resonance is another matter. Drummer Karl Latham and his three bandmates here are vastly talented, but their interpretations of songs by U2, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Bjork seem to be little more than frames for improvisation. "Manic Depression" exemplifies this, Hendrix's original three-minute rocker turned into a nine-minute jazz piece, with only a minute or so of anything resembling the original tune.
Not that this is a bad thing, but it seems that doing a cover is one thing and writing an original is another, and mixing the two with no real payoff seems a sin somehow. Again, it has nothing to do with the member's talent, but rather a seemingly lost musical direction, a desire to be so radical with the covers that it's not worth putting the original's name on.
"Manic Depression" has some great solos, particularly in its psychedelic bent at the end and Latham's complex drumming, but drags on a bit longer than it needs to. "Higher Ground" is a little too smooth to truly take off, save for John Hart's guitar solos, which also elevate "Tadpole." U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is turned into a lounge piece, but the shuffling drums give the whole thing a feeling of Muzak, likely negating the feeling the band was going for.
The other Hendrix cover, "Spanish Castle Magic," fares better, turned into a sexy slow burn that sounds very natural as a jazz piece. Trumpeter Vinnie Cutro shines here and bassist Kermit Driscoll keeps things steady, but Hart's guitar really helps the song shine, with a series of solos that recall Robert Fripp, Hendrix and John McLaughlin at once. If the rest of the disc sounded this urgent and sensuous, it would have been amazing.
Alas, it is not to be. "Pagan Poetry," despite being a Latham favorite, just doesn't catch fire like it wants to, and "Hekete" gets interesting about halfway through, when the drums turn into a quick shuffle and the guitar plays an eerie two-chord melody over top, while Cutro swirls around and Latham cements it together. It comes as a last-minute highlight. The disc closes with another Wonder piece, "Pastime Paradise," which ends things with a whimper.
The music here clearly wants to be two separate things and never really gels as a cohesive project. Latham has won awards and nobody is questioning the talent on display here, and in the right context the musicians could create something truly spectacular, but for some reason I didn't feel the fire that other jazz lovers have felt. Take what you will from this disc - it's sure to elicit different reactions from everyone based on where their tastes in jazz lie.