Friday, August 2, 2013

Joe Jackson 13: Symphony No. 1

In absolute defiance of commercial salvation, Joe decided to write and record a symphony. This wasn’t an orchestral album, like the otherwise ignored Will Power, nor was it particularly “classical”. If anything, Symphony No. 1 resembles the electronic keyboard-based pieces one might find on an ECM album, and certainly on his most recent non-rock releases. Along with his own keyboards, the usual JJ combo is heard, with special guests Terence Blanchard on saxophone and stunt guitarist Steve Vai.
While he’s someone who’s said he hated the idea of concept albums, the four movements are supposed to represent the stages of life. Maybe so, but the album is best enjoyed without context. It’s also an improvement over his last two albums, which tried to bridge big musical ideas and modern lyrics. Because no words are sung or spoken here, the music is left to speak for itself. It almost qualifies as “night music”.
Normally an album like this would be relegated to the opening paragraph of a larger review devoted to a subsequent album, but because Symphony No. 1 was such a pleasant surprise—especially given the arduous task of trying to sum up Night Music and Heaven & Hell—it garners more than a footnote. Whether or not it’s a bona fide symphony is moot, though it did win the first-ever Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Rather, it’s quite enjoyable, and deserving of wider exposure. We almost feel like we owe the guy an apology.

Joe Jackson Symphony No. 1 (1999)—3

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