Tuesday, October 13, 2015

In 'Fast Forward', Joe Jackson continues his restless pursuit of musical adventure

Joe Jackson / His new album Fast Forward was recorded in four different cities.

Sometimes I look at the Moon
And I think I know just how she feels
Going round and round us again
As we go round the Sun
Watching us as fools and geniuses rush in
And you and me age disgracefully
And have way too much fun.

~ From Fast Forward by Joe Jackson


Fast Forward is Joe Jackson's
 first album of original material
 since 2008.
Fast Forward is British singer/songwriter Joe Jackson's first album of original material since 2008. The album was developed out of an idea to record a series of four EPs, each relating to a specific favorite city of Jackson's. The final product is comprised of 16 songs -- four sets of four songs each which were recorded in the cities of New York City, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans.

Each set includes a different group of supporting musicians and each takes on a slightly different tone. In addition to the 14 new songs penned by Jackson, there are two covers, including a remake of Television's "See No Evil" and a rendition of the 1930s German cabaret tune "Good Bye Jonny." Collectively, Fast Forward is reminiscent of Jackson's Night and Day. From start of finish, this group of musical compositions blend together like a song cycle.

Jackson told Salon.com that he had spent a lot of time accumulating songs. "I was sitting on a big pile of songs, and I was looking for a way to organize them. (When) it started off, the idea was rather than doing a whole album was to work on three or four songs at a time, maybe do a series of EPs. The idea grew from there."

Joe Jackson debuted new material
during his recent concert at
the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Festival in San Francisco.
I had the opportunity to see the 61-year-old Jackson debut some of his new material ("If It Wasn't For You" and "Ode To Joy") from Fast Forward as well as perform some old favorites ("Is She Really Going Out With Him", "It's Different For Girls" and "Sunday Papers") when he played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival earlier this month in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Jackson's slick urbanity on keyboards and vocals stood out front and center throughout his 50-minute, 10-song set, which was was greeted with enthusiastic applause by thousands of fans who packed the Towers of Gold Stage on the western edge of Lindley Meadow.

In a recent interview published by Stereogum, Jackson discussed Fast Forward, saying it "has more words than anything else I've written.

On 'Fast Forward', Joe Jackson said:
"I imagined having a time machine,
and hitting 'fast forward' until I'm far
enough in the future to look back at
the present and make sense of it."
"It just kept growing and growing. I imagined having a time machine, and hitting 'fast forward' until I'm far enough in the future to look back at the present and make sense of it," he said. "We've got the past all figured out (or think we do) -- and we can imagine the future as anything we want. So it's only the present that's baffling and maddening. And I think we're living in a confused and anxious time. The commentary out there is extremely divided, either 'we're living in a golden age' or 'we're all screwed.'"

Jackson said he started with the chord changes, "which constantly cycle through different keys until they end with there started, only to start again.

"That triggered thoughts about how things are always changing, yet in some ways stay the same, or go backwards. The lyrics are full of ironies and contradictions."

Throughout 'Fast Forward', there is
strong musicianship and diverse,
well-crafted songs.
Among the musicians who contributed to Fast Forward are longtime Jackson bassist Graham Maby as well as jazz musicians Bill Frisell on guitar and Regina Carter on violin. Throughout, there is strong musicianship and diverse, well-crafted songs.

One of the great things I like about Jackson and what continues to draw my attention to his music is his restless pursuit of musical adventure. In "Kings of the City," Jackson crafts a lovely pop song complete with wit, style and undeniably meaningful lyrics:

We're the A Team -- the White Knights
And we want it all
We got the big dream
And the bright lights
But we don't see the stars any more.

While the Berlin song quartet turned out to be the darkest of the four, it yielded one of the album's loveliest tunes, "The Blue Time," which highlights Jackson's soulful vocals and supreme keyboard stylings coupled with the tender guitar work of Dirk Berger and an understated trumpet solo by Dima Bondarev.

You come to me in the Blue Time
Between the night and the day
Always too soon for the sunrise
Always too late for a second chance.

Fast Forward is Joe Jackson's return
 to pop songwriting. The album is
filled full of bittersweet songs that
are tight and melodic.
While many of the songs on Fast Forward are bittersweet, they are tight and melodic. One is even unambiguous, "Ode to Joy," which has become a favorite of mine. It's the final song on the album and it features three musicians from the New Orleans funk troupe Galactic, plus a horn section featuring Donald Harrison, Jr. on alto saxophone.

"It says, don't forget, there really is such a thing as Joy, even if it's not always there when you want it," Jackson said during an interview with music magazine Relix. "I wanted to get some New Orleans flavor in the context of something that really isn't New Orleans music. There's also a little altered quote in there from Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' from the Ninth Symphony. Everyone steals; I reckon you may as well steal from the best."

We can all be joyful for Jackson's return to pop songwriting -- and he does it with a clear voice and a conscience. "A few of the songs could've been done anywhere, to be honest, but you know, I ended up dividing them up and in the process some things happened that I didn't expect to happen," Jackson told Salon.com. ... But I really like them all equally. If somebody just asked me which was my favorite, no way I'm gonna answer that."

All photos: © Michael Dickens, 2015.

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