The contemporary jazz scene is almost evenly divided between original compositions and covers from the Great American Songbook. When something falls outside of those two groups, what does that music sound like? I feel like there’s more to this nebulous group than applying jazz fundamentals to songs from other musical genres, but when that happens–for example, in the new Wayne Alpern album Standard Deviation–it immediately stands out from the crowd.
Wayne Alpern, a composer and arranger, has tackled this concept before. His first album Skeleton took pop, rock and even country tunes and stripped them down to their bones. From there they were rebuilt into jazz standards in a way that makes you question whether these were ever anything but jazz standards, played and revered for decades and decades. Need some examples from Standard Deviation? Wayne Alpern applies his magic touch to songs from Michael Jackson (nothing less than “Thriller”), and other songs such as “Ode to Billie Joe,” “She’s Not There” and even Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”) Alpern has gathered a large cast of performers–including vocalists–to create a flexibility that allows these familiar tunes to survive these transformations.
“My music is neither radical nor experimental,” Wayne Alpern explains. “Its vitality lies in the familiarity of genres, recollection of themes, and the unpretentious interpolation of the dance floor.” It’s been a long time since I heard a musician describe his music with such ease and accuracy. When you listen to Standard Deviation, you’ll hear an instant connection to the original version. Alpern isn’t concerned with tricking you by slowly introducing that familiar melody so you’ll have a clearly manipulated epiphany. (It’s like all those live performances where the rock star begins his biggest hit in an unconventional way and there’s a huge swell of applause when the audience finally recognizes it.) Wayne Alpern wants you to immediately recognize the song so he can start feeding you new ideas on where it should travel through your mind.
Wayne Alpern suggests another direction for post-genre music with Standard Deviation. We’ve spent the last couple of decades watching our beloved music re-imagined through electronic means. We’ve watched old beats enter the modern world and sometimes erase their own past. Alpern has a new idea to rush up to these songs, embrace them, and give the sheet music to a highly skilled jazz ensemble. There are two ways to listen to Standard Deviation. First you can enjoy the moment of recognition and realize how strong these melodies are to succeed in this transition. Second, a most importantly, you can dive in and enjoy the new ideas that emerge, those that are completely free from pigeonholes.