Peter Madsen’s Cia Trio

Elvis Never Left the Building
Playscape Recordings PSR # 012614

Besides the music, which as benefits the veteran American-born, Hoechst, Austria- based pianist Peter Madsen is never less than dramatic and swinging, questions about appropriation of voice and Jazz interpretations come up when dealing with Elvis Never Left the Building. Superstar Elvis Presley was a childhood hero of Madsen, who has long had the idea of deconstructing and transforming Presley’s work into the Jazz idiom. With the help of bassist Herwig Hammerl and percussionist Alfred Vogel, fellow members of the CIA or Collective of Improvising Artists, he’s done just that with 10 of the singer’s biggest hits here. But a curious disengagement still remains.

From its beginnings Jazz and Jazz musicians have adapted their material from many sources, a situation that has become almost endemic in the past few years where improvisers have cranked out CDs dealing with the music of The Rolling Stones, Steve Wonder and Gentle Giant among many others, along with the expected Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington etc. tributes. Why then should Presley’s cannon be different than the others? For a start, unlike the others Presley was no composer – no matter on how many tunes his management placed his name – but an interpreter. His skill was in imparting an inimitable Presley stamp on everything he sang, whether the compositions – as they do on this disc – were created by Otis Blackwell, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller or Tommy Duden & Mae Boren Axton. But by doing so, Presley, who was prototype of a stylist borrower – usually from Black performers, but from Country singers and MOR crooner as well – generated an Elvis song, whose fame would always be associated with his performance of it.

That’s the difficult undertaking facing Madsen and the CIA Trio. The few times the three stay too close to the original melody when they perform, they just skirt sounding like a lounge trio saluting famous tunes for a bored audience. Meanwhile rearranging and re-harmonizing of the material – which Madsen has done skillfully – strips the familiarity from the famous tunes, making them merely foundation compositions or even chord changes and rhythms on which improvisations are built. This is particularly chancy with this material sine removing the Presley stamp from the songs really means that in essence the three are reconstituting songs by Blackwell or Leiber & Stoller for instance, which ultimately have nothing to do with the so-called King of Rock.

The trio deal with the challenge in a varied manner. A tune such as “Devil in Disguise” is given a swinging Jazz piano trio makeover, for instance, sort of Nashville Bop, and ends up with the pianist sounding more as if he’s alluding to a Carla Bley line than anything else, while bringing the power and sophistication of Hank Jones to his treatment. In the same way when something like “Don’t Be Cruel” is de-harmonized it ends up sounding as if it was put through the sort of style-grinder post-Bop Herbie Hancock would apply to a standard. More crucially when Blues-Rock chords are piled up to add duple meter excitement to tracks such as “Jailhouse Rock” and “Heartbreak Hotel” the stimulating swing engendered at its best on the first, partly resembles Bobby Timmons bluesy classics, at its worst, recalls Ramsey Lewis’ Pop-Jazz. Semi-ballads like “Suspicious Minds” fare even worse with a Sergio Mendes-like lilt suggested. Nonetheless by the finale, Madsen extricates the performance from kitsch by substituting chords at kinetic speeds.

Ironically, among all this, the trio creates a prototype of what it was aiming for with, of all things “Hound Dog”. Beginning and ending with canine yelps and howls, the almost nine-minute re-composition becomes seriously dramatic via double bass pumps, clanking rim shots and voicings from inside and outside the piano innards that sound like Second Line Boogie at one point and Cecil Taylor-like contrasting dynamics at another. Maybe played a little loggier than it should have been, but if every track at been at the same high standard a major breakthrough would have been achieved.

In the end Madsen, Hammerl and Vogel should be acclaimed for trying to bring something novel to the Jazz repertoire. They should keep trying. But on the evidence here neither Elvis fanatics nor pure Jazz fans will be satisfied with this disc for opposite reasons.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Devil in Disguise 2. Love Me Tender 3. Suspicious Minds 4. Jailhouse Rock 5. Hound Dog 6. All Shook Up 7. Surrender 8. Heartbreak Hotel 9. Can’t Help Falling in Love 10. Don’t Be Cruel

Personnel: Peter Madsen (piano); Herwig Hammerl (bass) and Alfred Vogel (drums and percussion)