Mojo - September 1997 - Page 155
The Jazz Passengers featuring Deborah Harry
London, Camden Jazz Cafe
Set List: Broken Night/Dog In Sand/Ambivalence/Imitation Of A Kiss/Nazi Samba/Ole/Angel Eyes/Lil' Darlin'/Kidnapped/One Way Or Another/Maybe I'm Lost/The Tide Is High
DEBORAH HARRY'S avant-jazz liaison with fellow New Yorkers the Passengers is a near-perfect symbiosis. Debs gets to play the slightly bonkers-in-the-nut chanteuse backed by a group of witty, irreverent and extremely well-schooled musicians, while The Jazz Passengers gain exposure to an audience which has come to their twisted be bop via Blondie.
One suspects that there are those in tonight's crowd who, like me, are more au fait with Deb's vampirically-enticing incisors than the easy-bliss solos of this band whose influences include Sun Ra's Arkestra and Louis Armstrong's Hot Five. About 20 minutes in, however, our toes begin to tap in crude approximation of rhythms more complex that 4/4.
Functioning tonight without double-bassist Brad Jones (no real problem, since violinist Rob Thomas and vibes player Bill Ware take it in turns to dep on the instrument), the Passengers segue effortlessly between bouncy vaudeville two beats, more outre instrumental passages and melting ballads. Co-frontperson and principal composer Roy Nathanson comes over as a cross between Groucho Marx and Frank Zappa. When he lifts his shoulders to accentuate some beautifully liquid sax phrases during Imitation Of A Kiss, it's as thought he's growing into the notes.
Ole is one of several songs tonight which give Harry the chance to utilise her acting skills. Here she plays a wanderlust-filled seductress (talk about typecasting) eager to go joyriding down Mexico way. Her breath control and phrasing prove she's equal to the considerable demands of the Passengers' material, and thought Debs is no longer svelte, when she wrinkles her nose, bites her bottom lip, and lets her streaked blonde hair fall over one eye, we're putty in her hands.
The fine version of The Tide Is High which closes the set is more than just a concession to non-jazzers. Bolstered by some sweet vocal harmonies, a bass-line cribbed from Bob Marley's Stir It Up, and some Shaggy-esque rapping from characterful drummer E.J. Rodriguez, the arrangement is as fresh as it is feisty. As the audience sings along to the final choruses, Nathanson, Harry, and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring conga up the stairs stage-right, then turn left along the gangway above Rodriguez, which leads out into the venue's upstairs restaurant.
Debbie Harry's musicality and sexuality have obviously matured, and The Jazz Passengers are the perfect live vehicle for her free-spirited largesse. There was no polyrhythmic reworking of Hanging On The Telephone; but then, you can't have everything.