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Omaha Diner

by Paul Rapp on November 13, 2013



What a concept: a quartet of modern ace jazzbos doing nothing but interpretations of number-one hits. What’s not to like? Absolutely nothin’!

The combo consisted of Helsinki’s monster drummer-in-residence Bobby Previte, the guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter, Sex Mob leader, trumpeter and wise guy Steve Bernstein, and the extraordinary tenor saxophonist Skerik (Garage a Trois, Les Claypool, Syncopated Taint Septet). Yowsa is right.

The whole conceit was playing mostly heavily disguised versions of mostly recent number-one pop chart hits. A song would start, unintroduced, with Previte typically providing some sort of exotic big beat. There’d be riffs, chord changes, and the audience was left furiously trying to figure out what the song was. It was like a post-bop game show. I’d guess the words “what song is this?” were uttered at least a thousand times during the set by various people around the club. What a blast.

One little drawback: us geezers who haven’t listened to Top-40 radio in ages were particularly challenged: Macklemore and who? Royals, what? Single Ladies, huh? But damn, what a way to pull in young fans who normally wouldn’t listen to jazz on a dare.

And who should, because this band is extraordinarily great and hysterically funny. In many ways, this was like a trad jazz show, with tunes having a head, a bridge, some round-robin solos, head and out. But the song choices were inspired, the solos were bracing, the ensemble playing dizzyingly tight, and there was a palpable sense of lunacy throughout. Bernstein set the tone, providing hilarious and sarcastic barbs between songs.

There were a couple of oddities: Their take on Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” seemed only lightly changed from the original and was more like a high-powered lounge version. And what was “Our Day Will Come” doing in there? I think I heard the Stones’ “Miss You” for a while. Maybe not; whatever it was was so oblique it could have been almost anything. But the moment I recognized Terrance Trent D’Arby’s “Wishing Well” was a moment of true splendor.

In a world where the dwindling jazz shows tend to feature either smooth drivel for the chardonnay set or dense noise played by overly serious cats who look like their toilet tissue is too rough, Omaha Diner bring the chops and the joy and the fun. I’ll go see them every time they’re here.