You Won’t Believe Iggy Pop’s Latest Project, The Guy Is A Renaissance Man



Back in the mid-70s when Iggy Pop was a heroin junkie who liked to roll around in broken glass on stage, very few people would have believed that he would live to see his 70th birthday. Well he passed that milestone last month, and here’s the kicker: not only is Iggy Pop still breathing, but he is in the midst of one of the most fertile creative periods of his life. Maybe heroin and broken glass aren’t so bad for you in the long run after all.

Last year he released the album Post Pop Depression which was easily one of the best albums of the year. His collaboration with Queens Of The Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme brought out the very best of him in a wonderful collection of songs that sounded fresh and contemporary. I think this was one of the more fruitful collaborations of the new century, and it is fittingly being celebrated in a new documentary coming soon called American Valhalla.

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Here’s the thing: Iggy Pop is not interested in regurgitating his schtick from the 70s over and over again, as so many Classic Rock artists are. He is joining the ranks of the few – Robert Plant and Paul Simon come to mind – who are willing to take big creative risks and explore new things as far as their musical curiosities will take them. To be a great artist is to constantly change and grow, easy to say but damned hard to do successfully.

Within this context, then, maybe Iggy’s latest project shouldn’t be so surprising – a jazz album, and we’re talking real jazz, not some campy Sinatra covers. Keyboardist and composer Jamie Saft is part of the new wave of jazz musicians who are unafraid to cross genres in the search for new sonic horizons. His contributions to albums by Bad Brains, the Beastie Boys, and the B-52s will attest to that. Working with seasoned jazz veterans Steve Swallow on bass and Bobby Previte on drums, Saft brings a distinctive melodic spark to the traditional improvisational jazz trio, accessible and progressive at the same time.

Saft approached Iggy to see if he wanted to contribute lyrics and vocals to some of the trio’s new material, and, looking for a new challenge, Iggy agreed. In a Rolling Stone interview about the project, he said that he was all Rocked out from his tour with Homme, but more than that, he has a natural affinity for jazz:

Since I was a little kid I’ve always been very fond of quieter, maybe more introspective sort of music – everything from Floyd Cramer to Debussy to Sinatra’s September of My Years – that song cycle was on constant rotation in our little trailer when I was going to high school.

Putting lyrics and melody into an existing jazz track is a lot harder than it sounds. The melody and phrasing must be able to fit into the song without overpowering it or knocking it off track. Iggy listened to the tracks, selected his three favorites, then started writing down lyrical possibilities. When the time came to record, he freestyled at the mic without lyrics or a lyric stand. This is a guy who trusts his well-honed musical instincts.

In all three cases, his very first take was the one they eventually used, which was perfect since the musicians used the first take on all their tracks too. The end result is simply brilliant. Listen to “Loneliness Road”, how Iggy’s great lyrics come in and out, letting the band stretch out between lines, and how he adapts his delivery for when the band kicks in a little more punch. It’s not the kind of jazz singing I’ve ever heard before, in fact, I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.

This would be a great album for any Rock fan looking for an entrée into jazz. While the three tracks featuring Mr. Pop are worth the price of admission alone, you can come for the Iggy but stay for the great playing and very groovy vibe. Loneliness Road will be released on several digital formats by Rare Noise Records on May 26.

 

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