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Jazz Covers Rock: The New Standards

The Brad Mehldau Trio.
Courtesy of the artist
The Brad Mehldau Trio.

Virtually every band plays a few cover songs. Some play nothing but. In the jazz world, the term "jazz standard" is code for a classic song that's been covered many times by many artists over the course of many years.

The five artists heard here break away from covering standards and turn their attention to jazz covers of modern-day fare: Judas Priest, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Bjork and Elliott Smith. The results are respectful but not overly reverent; some may even unlock new jazz standards for future generations.

For more entries in NPR Music's weekly Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler series, click here.

Jazz Covers Rock: The New Standards

Alex Skolnick Trio

"Electric Eye"

From 'Transformation'

Original: Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengeance - 1982. Alex Skolnick was a guitarist for the Bay Area metal band Testament when he first took an interest in jazz. After leaving Testament in the early '90s, he moved to New York and enrolled in The New School's jazz-studies program. Combining heavy metal and jazz came naturally to Skolnick, who today divides his time between touring with his jazz trio and working with Testament, which he rejoined a few years ago.

Brad Mehldau Trio

"Knives Out"

From 'Day Is Done'

Original: Radiohead - Amnesiac - 2001. Throw out Radiohead's guitars and vocals and replace them with an acoustic jazz piano trio. What do you get? You get a version of "Knives Out" that sounds every bit as complex as the original. The song opens with a simple bass line from Larry Grenadier; then, Jeff Ballard adds the sort of up-tempo drumming not heard in typical jazz standards. Brad Mehldau deftly breaks in with the melody and some additional sonic layering. It's an arrangement that's sure to inspire a new appreciation of Radiohead's composition.

The Bad Plus


Original: Aphex Twin - Come to Daddy EP - 1997. The Bad Plus shook out the electric from what was once an electronica piece and reworked it into a treatment for acoustic piano trio. Ethan Iverson's piano provides the light melody, while Dave King's drums work complex patterns around it. It's King's drumming that really preserves the integrity of the original, while Reid Anderson's bass rounds out the sound.

Dave Douglas


From 'Infinite'

Original: Bjork - Vespertine - 2004. Bjork's recording of "Unison" features lush layers of electronics, as well as samples and a background choir. Trumpeter Dave Douglas strips away all of that and transforms the song into a more nuanced acoustic affair. The core of "Unison" is brought forward through interplay between Douglas and the bass clarinet of Chris Potter.

Madeleine Peyroux

"Between the Bars"

From 'Careless Love'

Original: Elliott Smith - Either/Or -1997. Singer Madeleine Peyroux squeezes every drop of depression from the original and concentrates it. Elliott Smith's sparse guitar and vocal have been replaced by an even more haunting, Billie Holiday-inspired reading. The addition of accordion, piano and perfectly placed percussion helps give "Between the Bars" eerie new depth.

Copyright 2008 90.5 WESA

Shaunna Morrison Machosky