Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio
Joe Policastro Trio: Covers and Truth
By Dan Ursini c2017
Like all improvisational art, the best jazz tells the truth of the moment so deeply it stays with you for years. That appears to be what the Joe Policastro Trio shoots for. There is much talent and integrity in their work. Their renditions of some of the songs they cover are the best you are likely to hear. This Chicago-based guitar-bass-drums unit plays often and tours extensively, averaging 160 gigs per year. They have a strong YouTube presence with music from three CDs and extended performance videos:
Their newest CD, Screen Sounds, has tv/movie theme songs from shows like The Young and Restless (“Nadia’s Theme”) and films like The Godfather. On the latter, double bassist Joe Policastro plays a long elegiac solo, partially bowed, in which he uses a robust tone to great effect.
Most of the improvising involves the trio as a unit. This is achieved through a nimble arranging process in which they will add or rearrange sections of a song at the true spur of the moment. I think they are actually creating suites. But they keep the focus on the familiar identity of the original as a point of entry to listeners. Still, new sections form and disperse: songs you did not recall having a contrasting section now have many. Their take on Prince’s “1999” is a good example:
That they can do this is due to a cohesive group chemistry and a profound shared inclination to play only the essential notes that evoke the whole panorama of a song. Beyond that, they know how to make all their songs sound complete, even when they are covering a tune that was done by a large studio band with strings—or one that had a vocal, such as the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”
I think the completeness of their sound is due to a collective breadth of perspective. Guitarist Dave Miller sounds like pure Americana as he plays a crystallization of styles from around the USA. Dave is a longtime friend and my next column details the varied sources of his sound. Likewise, drummer Mikel Avery uses a very small kit which bridges the traditional big setup and the rolling tables of hand percussion instruments popularized by musicians like Airto Moreira. A later column will deal with their outstanding “Yojimbo” the samurai film theme.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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