Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso’s Jazz Crush

I complain about my commutes a lot and tonight is no exception as the combination of a downpour and early getaway Jersey Shore traffic put me on pace for a 3 hour and 45 minute trip. BUT I can’t complain too much because I have just been serenaded by the best new album I’ve heard all year, “Jazz Crush,” featuring my pals Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso. I attended the album release show at Dizzy’s on Monday and was blown away….almost too blown away as I was afraid the album might not reach the heights of the live show. Well, how wrong can a human be?

I’ll tell ya—plenty wrong. I’ve listened to it in full five times in four days, including a physical copy in my car that I’ve used to serenade the lunkheads surrounding me at various New Jersey traffic lights. There’s so much to digest, I don’t know where to begin (perhaps with some Bisma Rex—“it cuts gas” according to Pops).

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Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
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Okay, let’s start with the originals. Evan’s “Bunty” should be the song of the summer in a just world—three strains of glory, ending with the sounds of pure euphoria (and the Gordon Jenkins-ish chorus of melody played an octave lower on the piano knocked me out). Almost equally satisfying is “Help Yourself,” which sounds like a lost cut from a Ben Webster-Roy Eldridge album (“Music to Kick Ass By”). I can’t listen to the saxophone solo without screaming like a rowdy Jazz at the Philharmonic audience member (man, these people on the bus are giving me dirty looks. I just continue screaming).

There’s not one but two songs about not two but three cats that are only played by the horns and no one else—the interplay between the headliners is not human (appropriate). Kellso’s delightful “On the Chalumeau” sounds like “On the Alamo” upside down and has a charming lilt that improved my mood more than powdered sugar ever has (great bass by the great Tal Ronen!) And the new “old” blues, “Disconnected Papa” is brought to epic life by the epic Mara Kaye, who also shines on a “Brooklyn Holiday” version of “Foolin’ Myself.”

In the category of previously written material, the choices are all inspired and far from dusty. Jon-Erik invokes Jabbo on a tequila-infused “Jazz Battle” and Satchmo on “Tears” but manages to remain unabashedly Kellso throughout (Kellso being short for short for “Kells Mouth”). (“Unabashedly Kellso” is also the title of my favorite 80s sitcom.) The opener, a Bixian “Susie” got so stuck in my head at work today, I had to listen to it immediately, which only served to wedge it in deeper. Nobody complained.

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Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
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Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
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I’d never heard “Satisfied” but my goodness, is it lovely, with some excellent strumming by maestro Vince Giordano, who gets the tuba out of hock for a chorus on “A Good Man is Hard to Find” that audibly tickled those present in the studio. The latter also features a dynamite vocal by Evan, reclaiming the song after 100 years of female domination. Combining “Stalking” and “No Moon at All” over an “Echoes of Harlem” vamp is also a stroke of genius.

The fun ends with “Too Busy,” where Evan answers the burning question “What if Lillie Delk Christian could actually sing?” before a surprising ending that literally sounds like a record being flushed down a toilet. Trust me on this one, that’s a good thing.

I’ve only talked about the principles but let’s hear it for Harvey Tibbs, Zeno Paxton, Dalton Ridenhour, Tal Ronen and Kevin Dorn for swinging so mightily on track after track. The styles change, the band sizes are shuffled, the moods shift, every track a surprise and handled with aplomb by all present (and seriously, if you’re going to handle something, it simply must be with aplomb).

And finally, a heap of credit to the album’s intrepid producer, Scout Opatut, whose fingerprints are all over the results in the best ways of yesteryear greats like George Avakian and Milt Gabler. I’m a producer man and love the albums of the 50s and 60s when you could tell who was producing just by listening. Scout has big ideas about how the music should be presented and her efforts and whims and impulses and diligence have paid off with an album that will provide countless joy for me and anyone with a working pair of ears (and if your ears don’t work, don’t fret, the album has wonderful photos, as well as a producer’s note by Scout and informative liner notes by the great Dan Barrett).

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Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
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Evan Arntzen and Jon-Erik Kellso's Jazz Crush
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Okay, my bus ride is over and I’m switching to the CD in my car now, to blast “Help Yourself” as I drive down Route 37, scaring passersby with the thunderous backbeat of young Kevin Dorn. If you would like to do the same, stop what you’re doing, go to this link and follow any and all instructions to hand over your money. As for me, I’m already waiting for the sequel—how long I gotta wait!?