Joe Jackson Trio
Live Music (Europe 2010)
There have been no shortage of Joe Jackson concert albums over the years;this is somewhere around his fifth, not counting 1986’s Big World live-in-the-studio set of original material. There’s good reason for that though since Jackson seems to thrive on stage, infusing energy and often sharp improvisation to his own material while unveiling some nifty covers stamped with his unique style.
What that style is has tended to change radically over the decades from punk to ska/reggae, classical to big band, singer/songwriter and, perhaps most importantly, jazz. It’s the latter that informs this electric set. He rearranges older gems such as “Sunday Papers” and “Got The Time,” rejiggering tempos and the approach to make them, if not quite jazz, certainly jazzier than you’d thought possible. “Steppin’ Out,” “Chinatown” and “Cancer” are more likely candidates for the stripped down, bass-drums-piano treatment, yet even they are altered to leave room for Jackson’s increasingly creative, often edgy keyboard solos.
A mid-album trio of covers shows how inventive Jackson is as he morphs the Beatles’ “Girl” into a solo piano tour de force that makes the song seem even more venomous and bitter. David Bowie’s artsy “Scary Monsters” and Ian Dury’s slyly sexual “Inbetweenies” are inspired, relatively obscure and unusual choices that exude fresh life and vitality in this format. He also rescues “Tomorrow’s World” from 1989’s nearly forgotten Blaze of Glory and includes a little-known selection from 2003’s Volume 4. Interestingly music from 2008’s Rain, his newest release at the time of this 2010 tour that featured the same backing musicians (his original drummer and bassist minus guitarist Gary Sanford), is MIA.
The guitar-free ensemble leaves space for Jackson to fill with his well honed piano chops and, along with the crackling performances and tight, imaginative reworkings of both well known and under-the-radar material, gives this live release a leg up on his previous ones.