Scott Tixier: Sketches Of Michael Jackson

May 8, 2012

Soon after Michael Jackson's death in 2009, many of his songs popped up on jazz albums. While French violinist and composer Scott Tixier doesn't provide a forthright makeover to "I Can't Help It" — a Stevie Wonder-penned ballad from Jackson's Off the Wall — he does interpolate its Brazilian-tinged bass line in his captivating "Elephant Rose."

As soon as bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Arthur Vint nail down that instantly recognizable motif, Tixier's vibrant violin enters the fray, sounding almost as if he's going to quote the melody from "I Can't Help It." But after a brief dramatic bridge, his cogent improvisation blossoms into a gorgeous melody, uniquely its own. Biolcati slyly departs from the motif while keeping a glint of it intact.

As the song proceeds, the collective improvisation grows more involved, leading to Jesse Elder's rippling piano solo and a bustling drum essay from Vint. When "Elephant Rose" concludes, it reveals Tixier as not only a remarkable improviser, but also a cunning contemporary jazz composer. He knows full well how to hint at a yesteryear classic, tap into modern-day nostalgia and still bring about something fresh and clean.

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