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Published: 2004/04/27
by Pat Buzby

self-titled – The New Standard Alliance

Drydock 141520-4514

Cheers to vibraphonist James Shipp and company

for providing me with the easiest-to-write-about disc

I've encountered in a while.

This isn't the first "new standards" disc I've

reviewed — that honor goes to Bobby Broom's Stand from

2001. However, by dealing with rock, and primarily

alt-rock, Shipp explores riskier terrain than Broom's

pop/funk bag, and his liner notes make clear that

Shipp has a mission. In the early decades of jazz,

there came to be a commonly accepted set of

"standards," a collection of Broadway songs which

every jazz player knew and used as a template for his

artistry. By around the early '60s, though, the

bridge which pop songs crossed to become standards was

broken, and few songs have jumped the chasm since

then. Loving jazz but wanting to deal with the music

of his time, Shipp, with a sextet in tow, seeks to

make standards out of songs from Nirvana, Soundgarden

and the like.

It's a noble goal, at least in the hands of someone

who genuinely likes this material rather than, say,

Herbie Hancock and his songs-picked-for-rather-than-by-the-musicians New

Standard crew. However, there are a lot of historical

hurdles here, and Shipp doesn't quite clear all of


Those old songs were different vessels than the rock

compositions of today, which tend to be much more

identity-driven in their lyrics and timbres and rather

less rich in their melodies. Stripped of guitars,

lyrics and Eddie Vedder's rafter-climbing aggression,

"Even Flow" (to single out this disc's least

convincing moment) just isn't much of a song. And

does turning "Vasoline" into something barely

distinguishable from "Maiden Voyage" convey much

empathy for Scott Weiland's angst? To his credit,

Shipp's settings of "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Eleanor

Rigby" not only present appealing melodies but convey

something of the mood of the lyrics, and "No

Surprises" and "Black Hole Sun" are indeed nice

ballads — ballads that other jazz guys might try.

Leaving aside such considerations, these are

enjoyable if not top-notch jazz performances.

Trumpeter Ray Vega, a pro of an older generation,

deserves kudos for stepping in, and Shipp has an

angular, gritty way with the vibes. The group

achieves a pleasing hybrid of Hancock and Gary

Burton's mid-'60s combo sounds, with guitarist Nolan

Ericsson evoking the slight psychedelic underboil that

Larry Coryell or John McLaughlin used to have around


If Shipp clears the way for more jazzers to jam on

the masterworks of '90s grunge, more power to him. As

much as he succeeds in his mission, though, this disc

ultimately leaves me hoping that he and his sidemen

will break out their composing pens and come up with

some standards of their own.

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