With a name like Jazz Worms, it has to be good. Right?
I didn’t know what to think when I first saw this name, and this album title, after I opened the shipping envelope. There’s some strange jazz offshoots out there, and I get them in for review and secretly I’m thinking WTF but there’s a part of me that’s still grateful to hear something kooky once in a while, like a big band that concentrates on themes from Saturday morning cartoons or piano trio that features an old-fashioned toy piano. Jazz Worms? If you say so. And then I listened to this familiar yet skilled be-bop, the way these guys play jazz like the old legends, the ones who didn’t mind the rough edges.
There is a story behind Squirmin’ from the Jazz Worms, and it doesn’t even concern the origin of their name. This is their follow up to their debut album, Crawling Out. That album came out–get this–in 1987. Yes, these guys haven’t recorded together in 34 years. That’s a good story, right?
Okay, let’s get it out of the way. The Jazz Worms get their name because the members are pianist Andy Weyl, sax player Keith Oxman, drummer Paul Romaine, cornetist Ron Miles and bassist Mark Simon. See, I told you the 34 years thing was the better story, but it would’ve been entertaining to be there the night they discovered the acronym and debated it over whisky like the great jazz performers used to do.
All right, enough about the Jazz Worms and their name. How do they sound after 34 years? I immediately responded to this album right out of the gate–it has momentum and drive and it swings all night long. This is a quintet that plays jazz for late nights in big cities, and if you haven’t gotten the picture yet I don’t know what to say. How about this–a lot of contemporary jazz sounds like it’s being played by scholars, all those many academics who keep jazz alive in university programs all across the United States. Nothing wrong with that kind of jazz.
But the Jazz Worms have seen too much, played too much, to fall back on the past and tidy things up while they’re there. These five men grew up together in Denver, made their debut album, and then each one had a successful career out in the world and never quite circled back to each other. A reunion in 2014 “revealed that the old chemistry was still intact,” and seven years later we have Squirmin’, an album that doesn’t sound like jazz musicians 30 years down the line. It sounds like they did when they were young, still vibrant and still ready to knock over all those orange cones ahead. That’s what be=bop is about. This is one of those albums where I can explain its vibe using flowery language–like “jazz for late nights and big cities”–or I can just play it for you and have that flash of recognition.
Yes, this is vital jazz, the way it was once played.