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Review and photos by Andy ArgyrakisSticking to a single style has never been Joe Jackson's desire, resulting in a career that's spanned punk, new wave, jazz, classical and plenty of pop in between. These days, he's turning towards the swing era, specifically tipping his hat towards Duke Ellington on "The Duke" (Razor & Tie), which features collaborations with Iggy Pop, ?uestlove, Sharon Jones, Steve Vai, Regina Carter and Christian McBride.
For his tour in support of the project, the English iconoclast is joined by the Bigger Band, consisting of Carter on violin, long-time collaborator Sue Hadjopoulos on percussion, plus multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Allison Cornell, bassist Jesse Murphy, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith. Add in Jackson's keyboard (and occasional accordion) playing, plus plenty of his adventurous arrangements, and Chicago's Vic Theatre was greeted with a hearty wall of sound for over twenty tunes.
In terms of the Ellington material, a solo acoustic "It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)" with Jackson on vocals helped set the mood, but the groove really set in with the jazzy improvisations of all the players throughout "Caravan." Though from a completely different era, the Jackson swinger "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" served as a clever follow-up, bursting with plenty of sass and stand up bass bursts.
Though much of the near two hour night was bursting with energy, "Mood Indigo" slowed down the pace with Jackson's laid back vocals resting snuggly within Carter's glorious string playing. But the subdued moment didn't last long as "Rockin' In Rhythm" soon bounced with a New Orleans-inspired rhythm, while the recent original "Invisible Man" showcased Jackson's gritty pub rocker side.
Additional piano playing proficiency punctuated 80s staples like "Another World" and "Steppin' Out," which faded seamlessly with the Bigger Band's reprise of "It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)." Even if an encore of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and "Sunday Papers" had little in common with the standard set, they both served as instantaneous sing-a-longs and seemed to pick up slight shades of the show's overall format (such as the former being unexpectedly anchored by a tuba).
After all the revelry, the ballad "A Slow Song" helped bring the show full circle, starting off as a full band affair and eventually leaving Jackson alone on the piano as each player exited one by one. When all was said and done, the veteran effectively took fans on a journey between longtime muse Ellington and his own celebrated career (though "Look Sharp!" and "I'm The Man" and were solely missed), somehow managing to seamlessly blend both worlds, and in the process, inadvertently suggesting that great minds really do think alike.
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