It has been a good while and a few years or so since I’ve done a Jazz album review for my blogsite, Music from the Other Side of the Room. My re-introduction to the world of the genre came when I was back in Houston Community College as a musician/student 12 years ago when I moved away from filmmaking into Jazz studies and discovered the true geniuses of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. And the rest is history. I still admire real good Jazz. And I'll stand by to that term until the day I die. It wasn’t until after I had graduated I stood upon the music of The Microscopic Septet.
Since their formation 37 years ago they have been one of the most iconoclastic and innovative Jazz groups I’ve listened to. I remember the summer of that year in 2014 and going to Wayside Music and buying one of their albums online which was Manhattan Moonrise. And I was hooked. This was going back into the mid-to-late 1950s of the cats from New York and performing in the style of what it was back during that time period.
They released the first four albums from 1983 to 1988 whilst touring and recording before calling it a day in 1992. It wasn’t until 11 years ago they reformed again when their previous work on a 2-CD volume set entitled, Seven Men in Neckties and Surrealistic Swing which were reissued by Cuneiform Records which included an early recording of alto saxophonist and founder of Tzadik Records, John Zorn. I knew right away I had to jump on the train of the Septet’s music and not to mention they are widely known for their theme song to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
This year, they have released their new album entitled, Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues. The name is a pun of the Richard Farina 1966 novel as co-leader Philip Johnston and Joel Forrester mentions that it speaks to the essential optimism of the music of the Micros’ sound. The optimism is showing the concepts of blues, joy, rebellion, whole-hearted, and as Philip describes it as boisterous eroticism.
I have to admit with that last quote, they have some good humor in them and I admire that idea. And believe me, putting the sound of the blues underneath the microscope, it is a surreal, mind-blowing, strange, and revolutionary release that I have listened to. And I enjoyed every moment of it. Few of the centerpieces on here, just made me smile and knowing that they have brought it back to give the genre of Jazz music, a real kick in the gut.
Dark Blue begins with string bassist David Hofstra and Richard Dworkin’s drums followed by Joel’s piano work, slowed down walking rhythm as the horn section comes through. It reminded me of the 1958 jazz standard, Centerpiece. And thanks to the saxophones, they take turns through throughout the bars before call and response section.
Don’t Mind If I Do and Quizzical has the people heading down the dance floor and doing both tap dancing and the jitterbug with both the Monk-sque and 1930s swing vibe while the opener, Cat Toys inspired by the Hammond B-3 driven soul jazz and originally written for a short film about a dwelling space alien looking for a taste for (you guessed it) felines. Johnston brings you toward as a listener to the midnight showings either on a Friday and Saturday night for this strange creature from creature and his bizarre obsession of the cats.
The 14-bar Blues Cubistico sees all four of the sax’s alto, baritone, soprano, and tenor including Dave Sewelson bring the herculean works on his solo through his baritone improvisations. He just brings the house down through that section as the band watch him to see what will happen next. It shows that the Septet are a band of brothers, and they work as a team and just let Dave go and lets him know when they are coming back into the head.
They launched a campaign on Kickstarter last year in which they did on their previous album, Manhattan Moonrise where 91 backers pledged $9,515 for the band to record the follow up and it was a success. For me, I had a real good time listening to The Microscopic Septet’s new album. And I need to continue their journey to see what I was missing from their previous work in the early 1980s and with their Cuneiform releases also.
If you love the styles of the Blues, Jazz, and Swing, I recommend Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me: The Micros Play the Blues. You will not be disappointed to see and understand real good jazz music like nothing you’ve ever heard. And in the words of the late great Harvey Pekar, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”