Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Melt That Old Stereotype of Pretentious Jazz

January 24, 2009

The Jonbear Fourtet employs a rarely-used lineup: guitar, vocals, drums, trumpet. If this were a pop-rock band, we’d have Cake. But the trumpet is about all that connect Jonbear and John McCrea. Jonbear and his lads are a jazz band playing pop ditties. If I had a smoking jacket and a pipe, I’d probably slap the vinyl of Melt That Cold on my turntable and discuss weighty topics with my New Yorker-reading friends.

That is, except for the fact that the jazz occasionally turns into jubilation. The party-hearty mood that the Fourtet occasionally channels is fun beyond reason, and totally doesn’t fit with the bearded, philosophical stereotype that is called up on first take.

Now, this isn’t big band, swing-style jazz; you’ve already been told that there are only four dudes in the fourtet (Ben Folds, take notice). The jazz comes from the guitar, whose strum patterns and style are very specific to jazz; the jazz drumming; and the trumpet’s bright tone. The pop comes from the clearly pop-minded song structures and the hummable melodies in the vocals.

The Fourtet pulls off the mashup of jazz and pop very deftly, never getting too cerebral or too sugar-coated. This is doubly impressive when considering the lyrics, which are made up of cute images (the first three song titles areĀ  “Peaches and Puppies,” “Bumble Bee,” and “Mr. Spring”). It takes talent to take a serious medium and inject life (and irony) into it effectively.

And that’s exactly what they do for most of this album. Standout “Bumble Bee” uses the trumpet to great effect as the main melody-maker. This is a standard operating procedure for the Fourtet, as the guitar often carries the rhythm and structure of the song, but the trumpet’s presence is especially noted here. This a faster track, one of the more jubilant ones, and it’s a foot-tapper and a sing-along. There are crooners, like the sultry “Mr. Spring” and the dreamy closer “Snow Ice Cream,” where the vocals take front and center with their breathy, intriguing tone.

The only detractor on Melt That Cold is that with only three instruments (and maybe a second guitar here and there), the album starts to feel repetitive in the middle. The mood shifts and tempo changes help, but there needs to be a little more variety; the Fourtet needs to get some extra cameo instrumentalists on their next album to create a full experience.

For those of you who like something different, this should be the next thing to satiate your desire. It’s definitely without compare in my mind. I’m sure there’s someone out there doing stuff like this, but not many. An admirable and enjoyable effort by the The Jonbear Fourtet.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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