13 January 2007

They Might Be Jazz

They Might Be Giants have YouTubed this new musico-animato (yes, I made that up). Not their best workb y any means, but I put it up here as a way of launching into the subject of TMBG.

TMBG is John Linnell and John Flansburgh. The two Johns are geeks triumphant. The New Yorker has described TMBG as rock band that functions like a grass roots political organization. For the last 20 years, they've toured regularly, written incessantly and inspired crazed loyalty among their fans. They've branched out into commercials (for Dunkin Donuts, among others) and television theme writing and intelligent children's music.

What I admire about the Johns (and what spurs me to write about them on a supposed jazz blog) is the way they've continued to develop as musicians and embrace new ideas.

TMBG formed in 1982, just as punk (speaking of dead musical genres) was breathing its last. Much as there were power structures to protest, and much as I enjoyed thrashing about, punk always struck me as a form of fundamentalism.

I've come to view jazz, at its best, as kind of catholicism (note the lower-case c). Where jazz is still alive, it's because it has continued to adapt itself to new situations and incorporate new influences. Where it tries to hew to a limited line of inquiry, it's dead indeed. Which brings me to today's exhibit:

Check out "Mr. Me" performed by TMBG's Other Thing (available free at the TMBG wiki download site.

This is a 2003 reworking of a song from the TMBG album Lincoln (released in 1988). It's performed by Linell and Flansberg, backed by a small brass ensemble that includes excitable Grandview, Missouri native Mark Pender). It's a tiny bundle of joy that in someways surpasses the original.

TMBG seem to be bypassing KC of late in favor of gigs at the Blue Note in Columbia (they even wrote one of their Venue Songs for the club). Oh well. Their next Missouri stop is St. Louis next month for a Mardi Gras show.

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