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Music Review: Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet

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Some people can't handle it when their favorite music is treated "improperly." Me, I love it when music is inverted, deconstructed, glued back together, and pushed in front of the fun-house mirror. That's why I own collections of reggae covers of pop tunes, jazz versions of Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa material, Elvis Presley/Bob Marley twists on Led Zeppelin, and bluegrass covers of AC/DC songs.

In the jazz world, there's the longstanding tradition of using pop tunes and film/drama/television themes as inspiration. Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and Miles' "My Funny Valentine" come to mind.

Pianist Ted Kooshian has done a little bit of both things here, with his quartet putting a jazz spin on both television theme songs and some classic rock and pop tunes. Given that Kooshian is a member of the Ed Palermo Big Band (specializing in burning renditions of Frank Zappa material), this broad approach is really no surprise.

What I was surprised to hear was the theme from the television show "Top Cat." Wow, I hadn't heard that song in, well… over thirty years. Kooshian's very malleable group makes the song swing like crazy.

The same can be said for the slinky version of Led Zeppelin's classic "Black Dog." What really works well here is that Kooshian takes "jazz advantage" of the signature part of the original tune — in this case, "Black Dog"'s start and stop tension. It's a risky thing sometimes to take a vocal part and replace it with a saxophone. There's a real danger of sliding over the "smooth" line. That's definitely not the case here as both "Message In A Bottle" and "Don't Give Up" give props to both The Police and Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush without lapsing into shmalzt-land.

Other tunes covered here include the theme to Captain Kangaroo (I don't even want to talk about how long its been since I heard that!), "Spider Man" (done in a loping swing), "The Simpsons" (Not quite as good as Danny Gatton's version, but it's close), and a fantastic "Batman."

With it's angular sax lines, I almost didn't recognize the closing track: the theme from the film Bullitt. It's as soulful as much of the film music from that era, maybe missing the wah-wah drenched rhythm guitar. It woulda put a smile on Steve McQueen's face, I'm sure.

This record puts Ted Kooshian's love of this music on display. It is in no way disrespecting the original releases. If you can get beyond that, you're bound have a good time.

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