Aliens of Extraordinary Ability
It takes a lot of lip to make this happen," Martin Krusche says, goatee parted in a grin, eyes twinkling. The tenor saxophonist means it literally. Flanking him on the Blue Nile stage are four brass-kissers — baritone saxman Dan Oestreicher, sousaphonist Jason Jurzak and trombonists Jeff Albert and Charlie Halloran, as well as percussionists Paul Thibodeaux and Michael Skinkus — which makes 10 engaged lips in all, mightily winding their instruments as if charged with inflating the earth. It's the CD-release party for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, so the Magnetic Ear bandleader might well have been speaking in metaphor about the ensemble's boisterous, long-awaited studio debut. A New Orleans contemporary jazz back-talker, the album's nonoriginal offerings are attitudinal covers of Radiohead (Kid A kickoff "Everything In Its Right Place," whose creepy synths transpose just fine as creepy saxes) and Nirvana ("In Bloom," sassily rearranged by Jurzak a la Toussaint on "Here Come the Girls"). Magnetic Ear has performed steadily for five years and released two previous records, After the Rain (2006) and Live at the Saturn Bar (2007). But only Krusche remains from the former, and since the latter, he's beefed up with a second trombone and turned over his rhythm section more than once (Thibodeaux and Jurzak replaced Justin Peake and Jon Gross, who had replaced Kevin O'Day and Matt Perrine). He also opened the door to contributors, a parade of "aliens" — Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Chris Alford, Evan Christopher, Dwayne "Big D" Williams and Roger Lewis among them — that became an album motif. Lewis' sax handles bass duties on his own tribute, the scooting Dirty Dozen ringer "Uncle Roger." On "Farewell Tango," a covers-separating neutral ground dedicated to Alex Chilton, Christopher's eulogizing clarinet gets cut with spicy Latin syncopation, a Krusche specialty. Rounding out his compositions is Jurzak, who penned two memorable originals, steamy miniature "Dublike" and monster stomper "Alotalip." Yes, it is.
Word to the Wise
As steady and sure a catalog as there is in American music, Bill Kirchen's solo output has never garnered the national attention of the gigs he's supported, which include co-piloting the 1970s country swingers Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and shining as an ace six-stringer for Elvis Costello, Gene Vincent, Nick Lowe and Link Wray. Word to the Wise, Kirchen's seventh LP, can be read as a favor returned, as a bevy of marquee artists lend guest vocals and instrumentals on this affectionate collection of eight originals and three well-selected covers. Lowe and Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze) drench Merle Haggard's ballad "Shelly's Winter Love" in pining harmony, and longtime Kirchen collaborator Kevin "Blackie" Farrell puts an amazing Michael McDonald impression in the saddle on Leroy Preston's cowboy killer "Open Range." But it's the new compositions, and the delicious twists Kirchen's guests give them, that define the platter. Rockabilly opener "Bump Wood" may sound dirty until you get to the hilarious hook ("I know in the morning that it's gonna be good/ When I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood"). George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, holds a boogie-woogie reunion with his old wingman on "I Don't Work That Cheap," and harmonica hell-raiser Norton Buffalo, who died in October 2009, blows one of his final solos on accidentally poignant closer "Valley of the Moon," as Kirchen sings, "We raised up a ruckus till the wee small hours/ Some got lucky, some are pushing up flowers." The album's knockout moment, however, comes when Costello, whose relationship with Kirchen dates back to late-'70s session work in London, sneers the opening line to "Man at the Bottom of the Well" over a locomotive riff by the latter — two grandfathers of rock, trading clocks. Kirchen throws a record release party for Word to the Wise at 8 p.m. Sun., Sept. 19, at Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal St., 304-4714).