Ignore the fact that pianist Ted Kooshian regularly covers cartoon and TV music in his quartet and what’s left is an appreciation for music that swings exceptionally hard, and a passion for each tune that is anything but “animated.”
Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet has produced its second volume of music, Underdog And Other Stories…, following a self-titled release from 2008 that contained covers of The Simpsons’ theme, Batman, Top Cat, and the music of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, and Sting.
But these are not covers, as in the ostentatious music of The Bad Plus, with its tendency towards a gaudy and over-the-top approach to music. Kooshian’s vision is the same as Miles Davis or John Coltrane when they covered popular music of the 1950s or Broadway hits. In fact, here’s an experiment: find a 20 or 30-something jazz fan and play him the theme from 1970s TV show Baretta, with soprano saxophonist Jeff Lederer playing remarkably in the vein of Coltrane on the infamous “My Favorite Things.” Knowing nothing of TV history, the 20-something will admire the song’s deft and dexterous manner, without ever thinking, “don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.”
The music just happens to be music ingrained into baby-boomers’ cerebral cortexes. And, familiarity is a fantastic starting point.
Kooshian is a regular in the New York jazz and Broadway scene, and holds the piano chair in the Ed Palmero Big Band, which plays covers of Frank Zappa music. His arrangements here are quite inventive—”Underdog” gets an Afro-Cuban flavor and TV’s “Wild Wild West” proceeds as a blustery blues, pitting Kooshian’s gospel piano against Lederer’s howling tenor saxophone.
Within the same vein of TV music, the band covers Steely Dan’s “Aja,” Henry Mancini’s “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” and Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle,” all fodder for a polished quartet to showcase. They slow down Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” to a crawl—maybe a comment on our economic crisis—until Kooshian plays a two-fisted stride piano version of amphetamine jazz, reigniting the cartoon classic and reminding everyone that before Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott was a jazz star.
Don’t be fooled by the cartoon and TV references; this is one solid jazz record.
by Mark Corroto – AllAboutJazz.com (2009)