22 March 2009

Will Someone Get the Led Out?

Most jazz musicians are not shy about reaching beyond the repertoire of The Jazz Tradition to find something new to play. This is especially true when it comes to another major American contribution to music, rock and roll; think of Brad Mehldau covering Radiohead, Basie's Beatle Bag, or pretty much any album by The Bad Plus. In a quick scan of my iTunes library, I can find accomplished artists interpreting the work of Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Paul Simon, and David Bowie, among others.

But for the life of me, I could only find one example of an established jazz musician reinterpreting the canon of Led Zeppelin, a recording of The Crunge by the Joshua Redman Elastic Band. A quick search of Amazon.com yields little more, the closest I could find to a jazz musician tackling Led Zeppelin was a tributeby a French big band. You can see The Bad Plus play When the Levee Breaks on YouTube (embedding disabled, unfortunately), but that doesn't count; the band is playing soundcheck for a radio appearance, and barely make it through one chorus. Whereas you can find multiple compilations of jazz takes on The Beatles, Zeppelin is not even mentioned it seems.

And the more I think about it the less sense this makes. Led Zeppelin, it seems, is perfectly ripe for a reimagining at the hands of jazz musician. The music is blues-based and highly improvisational. The mixed-meter riffs of "Black Dog" or the heavy blues of "Custard Pie" would seem like appropriate starting-off points. Many of the band's other tunes could also be explored within a modal context, taking advantage of drones within the tunes to explore their harmonic possibilities. "The Battle of Evermore," "Kashmir," or "Immigrant Song," among others, seem like good candidates for this treatment. Led Zeppelin did not write ballads per se, but some tunes, like "Rain Song" or "Ten Years Gone" have interesting chord changes worth parsing.

If I were a musician, I would get on this right away. But for now, I can only hope that Medeski, Martin & Wood, Joshua Redman, John Scofield, or any other adventurous musician with an interest in rock will share my curiosity.

No comments: