Jazz Punks
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Jazz Punks


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The best kept secret in music


"I know! I know! Everything about this disc and title comes across as a big gimmick on first glance. I waited until I was finished listening to all my other review cds before putting this one in the old Toyota on the way home from work. WOW! WHAT A FUN OUTING!

What the Jazz Punks consist of is Sal Polcino/g, Hugh Elliott/dr, Robby Elfman/sax, Danny Kastner/p and Michael Polcino/b. Fine. So far things sound fairly normal. What they DO, however, is mix mainstream jazz classics with modern day rock in such a way that it gives excitement and flavor to both genres. Sort of like if Charlie Parker’s Quintet joined forces with Van Halen for a week at the Whisky A Go Go.

While there are a couple straightahead original boppers here like the adroit “Little Chickens,” the real draw here is material like “Clash-Up” which somehow makes a successful amalgamation of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” with “Take Five.” Don’t believe it? BELIEVE IT! Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” melds into The Beatles “She’s So Heavy” like it’s the most logical idea, while “Led Gillespie” veers between “A Night In Tunisia” with “Misty Mountain Hop.” It would all be a bad joke if these gents didn’t play it so well, and let me tell you, they swing like they’re at the Daisy Chain. They’re as tight as the old Detroit Tigers infield, and cook like Julia Childs. This will put your faith in the joy of jazz." - Jazz Weekly

"The mission statement of Jazz Punks is essentially to draw things together. It’s easier said than done, of course, but with Smashups this Los Angles band manages to tie various musical styles and genres together without sacrificing any integrity.

The art not only doesn’t suffer, it benefits. When Jazz Punks hammer a pair of Radiohead tunes to a Billy Strayhorn classic, all of the pieces of music involved benefit from the larger experience. The commonalities between numbers become apparent and the music blends to broaden the net, so to speak.

“The key is melding tunes in a way that doesn’t compromise what’s important about both classic jazz and classic rock,” says drummer Hugh Elliott. “I like to call it ‘stadium jazz.’”

Indeed, the description is apt. These are big tunes and they reach for the back rows, with Elliott, pianist Danny Kastner, saxophonist Robby Elfman, guitarist Sal Polcino, and bassist Mike Polcino throwing nothing but heat with every pitch.

Far too often, the notion of doing a “jazz take” on a pop or rock classic generally intones some brand of conversion. The pop/rock track becomes jazz; it doesn’t become another creation. This approach typically yields dull results, but Jazz Punks have no interest in tedium or mere adaptation. This is Smashups, after all.

What we end up with, then, is “Creep Train.” This piece is an enchanting mingling of Radiohead’s “Creep” and “Paranoid Android” with Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” The track opens with Kastner’s piano and quickly transforms into the familiar riff from “Paranoid Android,” building into a greater epic with each passing note and tempo change.

Then there’s “I Can See Miles,” a blistering mash-up of The Who and, of course, Miles Davis. The connecting tissue between “I Can See for Miles” and “No Blues” is staggeringly strong. And, for good measure, Polcino blows the doors off with a guitar solo. No word on if the Jazz Punks smashed the hell out of the set after the song, though.

Another highlight is “Led Gillespie,” melting “Misty Mountain Hop” into Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” The familiar cadence of the Led Zeppelin tune works wonderful with the tempo shifts and melodic playing from Elfman, creating a larger whole that is far more than just the sum of its parts.

It turns out that these Jazz Punks are the real deal. Smashups is not just another homage record filled with covers turned through a jazz filter. This is unique stuff, but it doesn’t abandon the foundations of any musical genres. It is, as mentioned, “stadium jazz” for the masses. And it’s fun, too!" - Blinded By Sound

"... irreverant, clever collection of mashup arrangements ..." - JazzTimes

"Jazz Punks take their compelling hard bop chops and the more defiant attitude of a really good garage band and fuse the two for a compelling look at where hard bop just might be heading. From a purely stylistic p.o.v. these guys are all over the place and while that would normally kill an act, it is their off beat all most satirical sense of musical humor that seems to bring everything together nicely. Only the guitarist is plugged in with the other ensemble members working without an electrical net so as to take the music to a different level while maintaining the more traditional old school approach.

Musical whimsy run wild. Two personal favorites on this most entertaining of releases are "I Can See Miles" which is of course a delicious riff off the classic Who tune "I Can See For Miles" and "Led Gillespie" which is an unbelievable hybrid of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop" with the Dizzy tune "A Night In Tunisia." These two particular tunes are packed with emotion, vitality and a harmonic freedom of movement normally only found in the free jazz forms found in certain areas of New York City. Re-harming the melodies seems to add to an inner core that has always been hidden in literally all four tunes but not brought forth in the most expressive of possibilities till now. This is jazz not for the faint of heart as the ensemble journeys to the darker side of hard bop with "Creep Train" which is an incredible riff from Radiohead's "Creep" and "Paranoid Android" to make an effortless blend with the iconic Duke Ellington tune "Take The A Train."

Jazz Punks and their latest offering Smashups do not just think outside the box, they play outside the box and in a rather bizarre zen like twist they actually become the box. Other bands have in fact tried this approach with some being smart enough to realize they only had chops enough for one maybe two tunes at best. Jazz Punks are taking the hard bop road less traveled, charting their own musical course and at the same time creating a unique and stylized musical voice that I for one hope we hear much more from!

Tracks: Foleo; Clash Up; Creep Train; Mind Over Matter; HeavyFoot; Bo-So; I Can See Miles; Little Chickens; 12 Steps To Hell; Led Gillespie.

Personnel: Sal Polcino: guitar; Hugh Elliott: drums; Robby Elfman: saxophone; Danny Kastner: piano; Michael Polcino: bass." - Critical Jazz

Incredibly clever, witty and entertaining release ... Ten selections from five very talented guys. Very new, different and delightful! - Jon Lieberman

Indeed, what's innovative about Smashups is not the incorporation of rock 'n' roll tunes into jazz, but the adaptation of hip-hop practices into live performance. That, and the band's wit and warmth, are the sources of the record's success. - NPR, "All Things Considered"

You can take Jazz Punks at face value — they are what they say they are. Saxophonist Robby Elfman, pianist Danny Kastner, guitarist Sal Polcino, bassist Mike Polcino, and drummer Hugh Elliott blend jazz standards with rock anthems and perform with a punk attitude. And what fun this is: an album’s worth of jazz-rock mash-ups. The melody of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” is supported by the backbone of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.” The saxophone lines of Dave Brubeck’s (or Paul Desmond’s) “Take Five” flow over the chords of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” takes on the riff of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” The most innovative track sets the theme of Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” against pieces of two Radiohead songs — “Creep” and “Paranoid Android.” Weirdly, nothing feels forced. They may be having fun, but they take the music seriously. (Out now) - The Boston Globe

SMASHUPS rose to #1 on the CMJ Jazz Top 40 today, after a monstrous debut at #4. It has a held a Top 4 spot now for 5 solid weeks! - CMJ Magazine


SMASHUPS [debuted May 1, 2012 on the CMJ Jazz Top 40 at #4, and has remained in the Top 4 for five weeks. It is now at #1]



JAZZ PUNKS debut CD, "SMASHUPS" sits at #1 on the CMJ Jazz Top 40, holding a Top 4 position now for five solid weeks.

JAZZ PUNKS was literally born on the Fourth of July. Upright bassist Mike Polcino hosts a regular Independence Day party where musicians are urged to bring their axes. Drummer Hugh Elliott had relocated to LA just days before and came to the party invited by a friend who never even showed up. So, he wandered through Polcino’s place where he suddenly discovered a grand piano, upright bass and full drum kit.

“Next thing you know we were just smokin’ together. I was moved,” Elliott says. “It’s rare to come across people who blow you away like that - I truly sensed some unique magic there.” And as the fireworks blasted outside, the future Punks’ creative energy reached a critical mass inside. This serendipitous musical experiment ended up providing the key to the band’s new sound.

“That night we just organically evolved from playing standards we love to molding them in ways that turn them on their head,” says saxophonist Robby Elfman, who doubles-up as an in-demand film and classical composer. “The first time we happened upon one of these mashups it worked perfectly. It was the happiest accident, and it led to our sound and vision.”

Hugh Elliott arrived in New York City in the early 90s and quickly established himself as a first-call drummer around town, in demand from CBGB’s to international tours. Like his fellow Punks, he was tired of seeing jazz musicians making music mostly for each other, and realized that this gang was an ideal vehicle for busting out of the post-bop ghetto.

“We're trying to deliver the music in a way that awakens folks to jazz, especially those who never knew they liked it, or always thought they hated it,” says Elliott, a street-honed drummer from the Lower East Side of NYC. “The key is melding tunes in a way that doesn’t compromise what's important about both classic jazz and classic rock. I like to call it 'stadium jazz'.”

Kastner, a BMI and ASCAP award-winning composer and mischievous jazz savant, provides much of the intellectual heft that holds the arrangements together. Guitarist Sal Polcino adds heavy funk and R&B chops to the mix, built from strong stints with the Tower Rhythm Section, including notorious Tower of Power bassist Rocco Prestia.

Acoustic bassist Mike Polcino is a long-time veteran of the LA music world who blasted out of Seattle’s punk scene in the 1980s. His huge sound and rock solid time provide JAZZ PUNKS with a flexible foundation ideal for their far-flung stylistic flights. He first gained notice in the late 90's during a stint with Fishbone saxophonist Angelo Moore, which included a tour opening for Ice-T. He notes that much of the band’s material is the product of scrupulous trial and error.

“A lot of times we sit around at rehearsals throwing out ideas like musical curveballs from every angle imaginable, and very rarely do they end up in the final song,” Polcino says. “It’s very much a group effort. We try to stay as far as possible from just making more covers. A lot of jazz artists have done Beatles cover albums, for instance, and most of the time the playing is pretty schmaltzy. We’re never apologetic, and never try to fit the mold.”