Joe Jackson - photo by Michael Sherer
I find that versatility and having the ability to combine a cross range of musical genres is one of the most important qualities to posses. Joe Jackson, pianist, keyboardist, saxophonist, harmonica player, composer, lyricist and singer, certainly has it. And so does his band, as he’s not going to have any slouches with him. They combine jazz, swing, classical, rock, blues, salsa, techno, dance and more.
Jackson, 61, (born David Ian Jackson) has been recording since 1979, after being signed by A & M Records. He’s been prolific, having released nineteen more since his debut. Jackson’s latest was released early last month by Caroline/Universal. Titled Fast Forward, Jackson still sounds inspired and has always stayed true to his muse and broadening musical forays.
The Town Hall is one of the most prestigious and storied venues in the country, if not the world, to perform in. Opened in 1921, the acoustics and sight lines are excellent, and Jackson and company surely saw this as a premier gig. NYC was also Jackson’s home from 1984 through 2006, when he relocated to Berlin, Germany. Along with bassist Graham Maby, (the first to play with Jackson on his debut record and for years afterward) guitarist Teddy Kumpel and drummer Doug Yowell, they delivered a sizzling, swinging and crisp concert. They covered Jackson’s greatest hits spanning his career. Many of the songs were reworked to a degree, while retaining the essence of the original versions. This included some rephrasings infused with much energy and dynamics, sounding fresh and vigorous. The entire set list is at bottom of review.
Born and raised in the West Midlands town of Staffordshire, England, Jackson retains an English accent that many Americans find intriguing. With that accent, Jackson had some interesting things to talk to the audience about. When addressing his new record he explained that he originally conceived it as four separate four song EPs to be recorded in four separate cities, with each EP relating to that city. They are New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and New Orleans. Jackson noted that while he did go ahead and record songs in these four cities with different musicians in each, all the tracks were ultimately combined and arranged into one full-length studio album.
Jackson didn’t mention it, but there are two covers on the record. A remake of Television’s See No Evil, and a rendition of the 1930s German cabaret song Good Bye Johnny.
The freshness and energy was sustained throughout the entire set, which was nearly two hours. After leaving the stage, the band returned for encores. Their first song was It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) by Duke Ellington. Jackson noted that Ellington is his favorite musical hero, and that this version is a twisted one that he dueted with Iggy Pop on Jackson’s 2012 release The Duke, which was a tribute to Ellington. When the audience cheered at that, Jackson quickly retorted with “He’s not here,” to laughter. The band then launched into it with great gusto, and added an extended ending.
The next song was One More Time from the 1979 album Look Sharp! This is the song that ignited the audience the most and brought most of them to their feet as they sang along with it. This was followed by Jackson introducing the band. Then came A Slow Song, a beautiful and sensitive ballad that typically closes Jackson’s shows. The tune provides sections for each band member to flex their musical chops. They then each independently put down their instruments and exited the stage. Drummer Doug Yowell was the first to so. Guitarist Teddy Kumpel followed. This left just Jackson and bassist Graham Maby playing together. Maby had been the first to join Jackson at the beginning. Maby then departed, leaving only Jackson playing piano quietly and tenderly. As his last note rang out and away, Jackson stood up, took a bow and walked off stage. It was a great night.
It’s Different For Girls
Big Yellow Taxi
Is She Really Going Out With Him
You Can’t Get What You Want
Kings Of The City
A Little Smile
Love At First Light
See No Evil
Ode To Joy
It Don’t Mean A Thing
On Your Radio
A Slow Song