John Lester has had one foot in rock with the other solidly set in jazz since he began playing at age 14. These two distinct paths now converge with the release of his 4th independent CD, John Lester Quartet “Jazz?”. The album, recorded in London and mixed in New York, is a collection of influential rock songs performed as improvisational jazz.
The new album features John on vocals and upright bass with Steve Lodder on piano (Carla Bley, Ernestine Anderson, Paul McCartney), Theo Travis on sax and flute (Robert Fripp, Davide Sylvian, Steve Wilson), and Davide Giovannini (Roy Hargrove, John Scofield, Steve Winwood, and Bjork). As evidence from the breadth of experience, all players are versed in both the jazz and rock genres.
“Jazz?” is inspired by John’s love for great contemporary rock songwriting and acoustic jazz improvisations. ‘Mr. Jones’, by Counting Crows, sets the stage with an intro of bass and vocal only, reminiscent of John’s unique solo shows. With the band kicking in at the second verse, the jazz theme of the album is firmly established. ‘Money’, the classic Pink Floyd tune, finds new roots with upright bass walking the famous 7/4 line, while Tori Amos’ ‘God’ is a blistering uptempo piece with John’s vocal floating like a laid back trumpet melody over the driving rhythm section. The once rocking ‘A Letter to Elise’ by The Cure, is slowed to a soft ballad, creating space for the sensitive Robert Smith lyric. John stays true to the essence of the vocal melodies while he and the band uncover the subtle shift towards swing for which this collection of rock songs is so perfectly suited.