Tag Archives: Underdog

One of 2009’s “Top Ten Jazz CD’s”
        ~ Ken Dryden (AllMusic.com)
        ~ Owen Cordle (News and Observer)

“The quality of musicianship is outstanding and the arrangements are fresh, inventive, and genius.” — Valerie Williams, Skope

“brims with vitality and affection…” — Don Williamson, Jazzreview.com

“Kooshian has obviously found a winning formula with this band…”
        — Ken Dryden, Allmusic.com

“Hip, hip, hooray for musical insanity done right.” — Chris Spector, Midwest Record

“Kooshian’s vision is the same as Miles Davis or John Coltrane when they covered popular music of the 1950’s or Broadway hits.” — Mark Corroto, AllAboutJazz.com

“Ted’s solos are swinging throughout the entire CD… incredibly fun CD by five virtuosos who are creative and experienced enough to play their hearts out while at the same time never taking themselves too seriously…” — Ed Palermo, on Amazon.com

“Enjoy the creative levity here, and the wonderful playing.”
        — Ken Franckling, Jazz Notes

Yes, you heard right: “Underdog.” Pianist Kooshian, who may be best known for his work with the Ed Palermo Big Band (whose Zappa covers are wacky enough), has here again put his twisted mind on exhibition, with another album of (primarily) cartoon, TV and movie themes. Listeners will have a ball hearing the “Popeye,” “Little Lulu” and “Underdog” themes performed as jazz. Who knew “Underdog” would make a great Latin number? Only Kooshian, and his cohorts in the Standard Orbit Quartet I suspect. Some of the covers make sense: ’70s TV themes “Sanford and Son” (written by Quincy Jones), “Baretta” (Dave Grusin) and “The Odd Couple” were pretty jazzy to begin with, but hearing the “Wild, Wild West” theme as a waltzing ballad never occurred to me. Special credit must got to saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who simply burns through this humorous, yet musical jaunt.

by Brad Walseth – JazzChicago.net (2009)

Jazz pianist Ted Kooshian follows up his well received self-titled “Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet” (Summit Records 2008), with another unique recording inspired by Kooshian’s love for movies and television program theme songs. As the press clippings accurately states, Underdog and Other Stories… “takes the listener on a ‘jazzy-trip’ down memory lane” turning theme songs from cartoon shows like “Underdog,” and “Popeye” into striking motifs of contemporary jazz with stellar play from such players like saxophonist Jeff Lederer who wields the tenor and soprano with assertiveness, drummer Scott Neumann and bassist Tom Hubbard with Warren Odze sharing duties with Neumann on several tracks.

This is of course Kooshian’s album and as such the pianist is formidable in his own right providing flowing piano lines evident through out, just listen to the very jazzy rendition of Dave Grusin’s “Baretta.” The theme song from the classic comedy “Sandford and Son” comes across with a taste of funk hiding the familiar melody a bit. The group slows it down on the ballad-like “Wild Wild West” featuring Lederer on a slow tenor burn and the pianist on a graceful dance on the keys. Other interesting arrangements are found on such tunes as Neal Hefti’s “The Odd Couple,” the familiar Duke Ellington standard “Purple Gazelle,” the soft and beautiful Henry Mancini composition “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the brisk and bouncy groove of the finale number, “Little Lulu.”

On Underdog and Other Stories, Ted Kooshian takes his remarkable Standard Orbit Quartet on another spacey ride across the universe picking up radio waves from some more TV and movie signals and transforms them into exceptional jazzy arrangements radiating with excitement.

by Edward Blanco – ejazznews (2009)

While Ted Kooshian named his album Underdog, and other Stories… Kooshian is certainly not an underdog, nor is his Standard Orbit Quartet. He gives life to old television themes and superhero anthems, such as the highly energized re-imagination of “Underdog,” an upbeat number featuring a sick tenor sax feature by Jeff Lederer that starts off low and mysterious, much like the Pink Panther theme, then morphs into something more powerful. Lederer’s perfectly executed solo soars above Kooshian’s own piano, which is incredibly interesting by itself; his feature prior to the sax solo begins with just the bass line, then builds up to chords, and finally is joined by Lederer. After a few bars of that, the mood shifts briefly to a more Latin-infused beat, with Kooshian playing a conga-inspired pattern. The mood shifts several more times before the end of the song, transforming a simple cartoon theme song into something layered with more depth, which becomes infinitely more interesting.
The best part about this collection is the fact that Kooshian and his quartet obviously like to have fun, particularly evidenced with their rendition of “Popeye.” This song begins with bird noises and the sounds of the sea, followed by a boat horn, and then a smooth transition into the music with Kooshian playing the beginning of the theme in a complex meter. While the burden of the melody is once again given to the saxophone, don’t be fooled; Kooshian and his piano have total control over this song. In the middle after a false ending, the piano breaks the silence with a minor interlude that is a little haunting but beautiful nonetheless. He also ends the piece, with a dissonant variation of the melody that sums up the whole song, which then fades back to the bird noises from the beginning.
Underdog, and other Stories… is packed with energy. The quality of musicianship is outstanding and the arrangements are fresh, inventive, and genius. And they certainly do more than cartoons; the album also features the themes to Sanford and Son and The Odd Couple. They’re updated and reinvented in an adult way, giving these shows back to the people who watched as children in a new incarnation.

by Valerie Williams – Skope (2009)

Don’t tell Ted Kooshian that jazz can’t have a sense of humor. He knows how to have good fun with his Standard Orbit Quartet. Seriously. Underdog, and other Stories… primarily consists of songs that are very familiar, just not in a jazz context. This is a second edition of the pianist’s project of recording jazz versions of cartoon, TV and movie theme music – with interesting and unusual rearrangements – featuring his spirited quartet.

A zany take on the “Sanford and Son” theme song (written by Quincy Jones) is here, complete with slide whistle added to saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s arsenal. Quite fittingly, cartoon music king Raymond Scott is represented, as are the themes from “Underdog,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “The Odd Couple,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and a soulful, gospel take on “Wild Wild West.” The theme from the “Little Lulu” cartoon show is even embellished with drummer Warren Odze’s use of an inverted plastic bucket like those employed by so many street drummers. A fresh take on Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” is a great choice just for its name. Ellington described the exuberant tune, also recorded as “Angelica” in his small group session with John Coltrane, as a “ragtime cha-cha.” Enjoy the creative levity here, and the wonderful playing.

by Ken Franckling – Ken Franckling Jazz Notes (2009)

“Underdog, and Other Stories…” (Summit), by pianist Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet, is an album of movie, television and cartoon melodies plus a few pop and jazz themes. The Quartet combines deadpan humor with deadly technique. While it respects the inherent beauty in tunes such as Miguel Prado’s “Time Was,” Richard Markowitz’s “Wild, Wild West” and Henry Mancini’s “Breakfast at Tiffany,” it charts its own ingenious course that is more traditional than radical.

Kooshian, who arranged all the tunes, has an ear for novel settings: “Popeye” as a minor-chord workout for saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s soprano, “Wild, Wild West” as a gospel text for piano, tenor saxophone and bass solos, Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” as a (partly) stride piano display… The tango-like beat of the title track unleashes Lederer for some of his best tenor work, wherein he fits increasingly complex lines in the structure of the rhythm section accents. He is also hot throughout “Little Lulu,” with its joyous, funky New Orleans-flavored groove.

Kooshian and his rhythm mates (bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Warren Odze or Scott Neumann) are a happy-sounding trio; i.e., happy to be playing together. While they and Lederer display technique to burn, the Quartet avoids competitive, academic jousting and, instead, digs deeper into the performances with individual personalities, humor and soul.

by Owen Cordle – News And Observer – North Carolina (2009)

Every cut of this 13-song album is a revelation, a foot-tapping, head-bopping load of fun mixing nostalgia with new interpretations. It is not unusual for an instrumental jazz album to cover standards from folks like Duke Ellington. Ted Kooshian covers Ellington, too, with a hopping rendition of “Purple Gazelle.” But it is the other covers here that astound, amaze and amuse. There is an Arabian-tango saxed-up take of the old “Underdog” cartoon theme. While that old tune, especially with this revved-up version, may not be familiar to many listeners, Kooshian’s covers of Quincy Jones’ “Sanford and Son” theme will catch your attention. He also takes a stab at a melancholy, discordant instrumental version of the Popeye theme, with a wobbly, Sunday-morning-coming-quality suggesting the sailor may have something a little more brisk than just spinach in the can. The “Wild, Wild West” theme starts with its familiar bum-bump, bum-bump opening then transcends into a near-religious experience on saxophone. This is the type of album that may offend some jazz purists. Too bad. It’s just the type of album to make jazz fans out of non-jazz listeners.

by Dean Poling – Valdosta Daily Times (2009)

Sooner or later, someone was bound to delve into these rather odd movie and TV themes, and Kooshian and his quartet do it with pizzazz. If you’re at least graying a bit at the temples, you’ll recognize the likes of “Sanford and Son,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “Wild Wild West,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Little Lulu.” An album highlight that, to my knowledge, can’t be connected to show biz is Duke Ellington’s spirited “Purple Gazelle.” There’s a lot of fun here, but this is not for laughs. It’s all well played, particularly Kooshian’s swinging piano.

by Jazz Society Of Oregon (2009)

TED KOOSHIAN’S STANDARD ORBIT QUARTET/Underdog and Other Stories: You might quibble with the a&r on the songs here but you aren’t going to argue with the playing and you aren’t going to argue with a cat that puts together a cd with a song list that plays out like the play list in your head when you’ve had too many with the gang. Mixing cartoon and tv themes with Mancini, he at least takes the trouble to blunt the comparisons to Raymond Scott wackiness by including “Powerhouse” and heading you off at the pass. This piano man and his pals probably knock back too much of the same stuff the rest of us do, but they know how to play and got it done first. Great pop culture/jazz silliness that the world could desperately use a shot in the butt of right now. Hip, hip, hooray for musical insanity done right.

by Chris Spector – Midwest Record (2009)

The concept for most jazz albums usually occurs more conventionally, and as the result of solitary imaginative considerations, than those for Underdog, and Other Stories…. Ted Kooshian’s new album, though, did stem from a convention—specifically, the annual Superheroes and TV Icons Social Conference, attended fortunately by Kooshian’s friend, Tom Goldstein.

Goldstein let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, at the convention of broadcasting celebrities that he knew Kooshian, a producer already of an album of television and movie themes. So, imagine this situation, amazing but true. All of a sudden Goldstein was the center of attention, and the characters, so to speak, sitting at the bar lobbied him to have their theme songs included on Kooshian’s next album. They started to sing. The cacophony was deafening as all of them belted out their theme songs at once: Woody Woodpecker, Felix Unger, Felix the Cat, Mary Richards, Popeye, James Rockford, Daffy Duck, Homer Simpson, Radar O’Reilly, Mr. Magoo, Baretta, King Julien XIII, Archie Bunker, Mighty Mouse, Mr. Sanford and his son, Jiminy Cricket, Toto, James Kirk, Oscar the Grouch, Fat Albert, Holly Golightly, Miss Piggy, the entire Addams family, Underdog, James West, George Jetson, Toody and Muldoon, Fred Flintsone, Barney Fife, Shrek, Ben Cartwright and Little Lulu. Such a commotion you never heard in your life. And you can imagine the pressure that Mr. T., Tony Soprano and Darth Vadar exerted on the bedraggled, importuned Goldstein. At least that’s what Goldstein said, and why should I doubt an associate professor?

The opportunities for selection were broad, but the time available on the CD was restricted. So, the theme songs that Kooshian selected, based on Goldstein’s recommendations, are shown in the track listing below.

Being a busy New York pianist for stage shows, Broadway productions and club engagements, Kooshian, naturally, is familiar with innumerable songs he learned for his work and to fulfill requests. No wonder that he is familiar with some of the often forgotten and forgettable themes like Little Lulu’s and the Wild Wild West’s. Nonetheless, Kooshian sense of fun and his open-mindedness finds value in them, making them not only accessible, but also memorable. With a jazz musician’s improvisational spirit, Kooshian and his Standard Orbit Quartet explore the often-unheard potential of these theme songs, like the possible bluesiness of the Wild Wild West’s theme or Little Lulu’s hand-clapping come-and-join-the-party swinging unpredictability, complete with a penultimate gospel reference, a melody-only simplified piano solo, and then drummer Warren Odze’s use of a bucket purchased from Home Depot just for the recording session.

Such witty effects continue, as would be expected, on “Popeye”—which contains, among other elements, a foghorn, bird sounds and a bit of “Sailor’s Hornpipe.” But something like transformation of rhythm occurs. And something like alteration of melody occurs, as if Sammy Lerner’s song were the starting point for winding soprano sax lines. And something like inhabation by the spirit of Popeye’s personality traits occurs. Something called “jazz” occurs. With a jazzman’s inventiveness, Kooshian internalizes the “Popeye” theme, reshaping it, breaking it into discreet sections of varying moods, and propelling it with a recurrent eighth-note vamp that allows saxophonist Jeff Lederer to veer between improvisation and melodic re-statement. Lederer’s soprano sax work works well too on Quincy Jones’ Sanford and Son theme, “The Streetbeater,” which Kooshian re-arranges with a prodding vamp and slight re-harmonization of the accompaniment.

Some of the surprises on Underdog, and Other Stories… occur in the least expected places. Like Dave Grusin’s Baretta theme. Who recalls how jazzy it was? Kooshian’s forceful broadly chorded introduction leads into Lederer’s swaying tour de force in six-eight, eventually leading into a four-against-three feel for unleashing the performance’s underlying tension. Just as one would expect Lederer to play soprano sax also on The Odd Couple theme, no, he chooses tenor sax, and with good reason: avoidance eventually of the lilting melody for a gradual detour into almost five minutes of jazz improvisation over the tune’s changes before Lederer restates it for the abrupt finish.

So what is Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” doing in the midst of these television and movie themes? Well, for intermission, of course!

Seriously, Kooshian continues, track by track, to change the perspective associated with often-heard theme songs, like Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse,” which he slows and trills and buzzes and swirls and elasticizes the tempo for his own wacky effect separate from those in Warner Brothers cartoons and from the Don Byron re-invention on Bug Music. And of course, there’s “Underdog,” a Thanksgiving-day parade favorite and assumed to be Kooshian’s favorite character due to the fact that he named the album after the hero who never fails. Kooshian and his Standard Orbit Quartet convert the Underdog theme into a stomping rumba-like basis for infectious improvisation.

Needless to say, Ted Kooshian’s musical tribute to his favorite movie and television icons brims with vitality and affection, bringing to mind listeners’ remembrances of shows past. Needless to say, much excellent material remains should Kooshian choose to continue his tributes to the filmed, drawn and videotaped heroes whose music remains a part of our culture.

by Don Williamson – jazzreview.com (2009)

With all the humor and quirkiness that makes up the package and personality of the physical CD itself, what one hears is on a whole different level. Ted Kooshian and his Standard Orbit Quartet play on a set of themes from cartoons, television series, movies and some more familiar tunes. Many of them went right over my ears, as a twenty-six year old, but that was okay, because a band of this caliber doesn’t need any gimmicks to make great music – the novel song choices are an added benefit. Kooshian, saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Tom Hubbard and drummers Warren Odze and Scott Neumann play like a real band that has developed a deep chemistry. “Underdog” starts things out in an exciting fashion with a deep bass groove that gives way to an afro-Cuban feel. Neumann and Hubbard are like one voice, and Kooshian and Lederer also play off of each other wonderfully. Kooshian’s solo tells a story which is something refreshing and not all that common anymore. His ideas are all related to each other and his sense of melody is superb. He really gets inside the composition, thinking like a composer. The famous “Popeye” song starts off with the sounds of birds flying over the water and a boat leaving the dock. Kooshian makes things interesting by changing the time signature throughout the tune between triple, duple and odd meters and completely re-harmonizing the classic theme. “Powerhouse” brought me back to my childhood. After a solo rag style interpretation of the tune by Kooshian, the band gets very free with it, and suddenly I imagined Bugs Bunny on a horrible acid trip, wandering around in terror. Then it suddenly goes into a stiff march beat and I imagine Elmer Fudd on the hunt! At this point I realized how beautiful of an idea it is to tap into our childhood musical memories as fodder for serious improvisation. There is something very profound in the effect. Jeff Lederer’s sax playing is so diverse. At times he reminds me of Charlie Rouse, Sonny Rollins, or even Coleman Hawkins when he really wants to get sensual. This side of him is heard on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The band shows a funkier side on “Little Lulu,” which makes for a good closer with its danceable rhythms and drum work and its R&B flavor. Some of the other tunes on the record include “Aja,” “Time Was,” Sanford and Son,” the “Barretta” theme, “Wild Wild West,” Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle,” “God Give Me Strength,” by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, and “The Odd Couple” theme. This group has a lot of fun playing, but they take what they do very seriously. This is one of those records where you can hear the players listening. You can hear their empathy and the fact that they are not focused on themselves. There is humility in their approach and plenty of group chemistry that will suck you right into their sound. The Underdog wins!

by Cathy Gruenfelder – Jazz Inside NY (2009)

No one can accuse Ted Kooshian of turning to the same old well of standards for inspiration: Underdog, and other Stories… contains no songs written by Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, or Irving Berlin. But its track list will be instantly familiar to many, particularly those who came of age circa the ‘60s and ‘70s: As on the pianist’s last release, 2008’s self-titled Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet, Kooshian puts his crew through the paces on a handful of cartoon, film and TV themes from those heady days, tossing in a few offbeat pop and jazz standards for kicks.

Kooshian, who is also a regular member of the Ed Palermo Big Band, prefers to use these compositions – a diverse batch ranging from Quincy Jones’ “Sanford and Son” to Steely Dan’s “Aja” to Dave Grusin’s “Baretta” – as templates, often taking great melodic liberties. Sammy Lerner’s “Popeye the Sailor” at first barely resembles the tune embedded in millions of young minds; its “toot toot” strains surface prominently about a minute in, get lost amid whorls of piano and alto interplay, then pop up again toward the end. The title track is transformed into a slice of Latin funk and “Wild Wild West” into a saloon blues.

The quartet – Kooshian, tenor saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Tom Hubbard and either Warren Odze or Scott Neumann on drums – finds an essence within each of these numbers and rebuilds them from the ground up. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s “God Give Me Strength” retains the original’s spirituality but finds its heart in cascading crescendos, while Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” (from his 1962 Coltrane session, and a.k.a. “Angelica”) is harder and tougher than the Duke’s. The highlight, though, is likely the Standard Orbit Quartet’s spaced-out take on “Powerhouse,” penned by cartoon-music god Raymond Scott. In its four-plus minutes lie all the mystery, wackiness and otherworldliness of a classic animated film.

by Jeff Tamarkin – Jazz Times (2009)

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)

Pianist Ted Kooshian picks up where he left off on his second CD with his Standard Orbit Quartet, offering novel interpretations of themes from cartoons, television series, movies, plus a few familiar jazz and pop compositions. The lineup hasn’t changed much, with Jeff Lederer on tenor and soprano saxes, bassist Tom Hubbard, and drummer Warren Odze, though Scott Neumann takes over on drums on a few numbers due to a scheduling conflict for Odze. Those who grew up in the ’60s will remember Underdog (starring Wally Cox as the voice of the canine superhero), yet this campy interpretation of its theme song is centered around a lively Afro-Cuban beat. “Wild Wild West” (starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin) is recast as a loping gospel number, featuring Lederer’s passionate, preaching tenor, all that’s missing is the closing “Amen” from a choir. Everyone who loves the Looney Tunes cartoons of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s is likely familiar with Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse,” which was orchestrated and used in excerpts by Carl Stalling. Best compared with Scott’s original recording, Kooshian’s hilarious, stripped-down arrangement gets into a bit of stride, some pseudo-classical and avant-garde, along with many shifts in the tempo, resisting any predictable path. The dissonant setting of “Popeye” showcases the leader’s angular piano against Lederer’s playful soprano sax, then alters direction into an ominous vamp (possibly suggesting Popeye’s inevitable battle with Brutus). Henry Mancini’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is fairly straight-ahead, with lush tenor, elegant piano, and brushwork suggesting an early morning stroll in Manhattan on an autumn day. Likewise, the take of Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” (also recorded by its composer as “Angelica”) swings like mad in African-flavored swing, with Lederer’s superb soprano dominating the track. Ted Kooshian has obviously found a winning formula with this band, and if they continue to work together, they should suffer no shortage of songs to uncover for their mostly madcap experiments. Rate it four-and-a-half stars or five chuckles.

by Ken Dryden – Allmusic.com (2009)