Two Asheville-based groups are releasing new, self-titled recordings. And though both ensembles are working within the jazz idiom, the styles of music they create are worlds apart. In connection with their album releases, both Up Jumped Three and Pimps of Pompe had scheduled live shows locally, but in light of the unfolding crisis around COVID-19, both shows were canceled. But the new albums will be available on schedule in digital format.
Hot jazz meets hip-hop
Asheville-based Pimps of Pompe have a unique musical approach. The band takes inspiration from modern hip-hop and rhythm and blues, bending those forms into the style of pre-World War II hot jazz. The group’s new self-titled EP showcases that process alongside original songs and selected jazz classics.
Songwriter, bandleader and mandolinist Cynthia McDermott says that Pimps of Pompe allows her to explore her love of jazz and modern music at the same time. “I’ve been playing trad jazz, swing and gypsy jazz for 10 years,” she explains. “I love that music, but I felt like it could use an update to feel relevant to me and to audiences that aren’t necessarily exposed to a lot of older music. And I love hip-hop and rap — music from the ’90s and 2000s. So I wanted to find a way to put all the things that I love together in one sound.”
Recasting songs like Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” — a highlight of Pimps of Pompe’s new release — into the jazz idiom requires some creativity; for all its virtues, the original recording isn’t strong on melody. “I love hip-hop music,” McDermott stresses, “but that music isn’t necessarily very advanced, harmonically.” At the same time, she points out, Beyoncé’s lyrics have a depth that’s sometimes lacking in carefree, Jazz Age songs. “Putting together these two styles brought something that was, to my ears, missing from each style.”
Pimps of Pompe’s hybrid works aim to emphasize the best of both forms. The darkness and melodramatic vibe of “Drunk in Love” is leavened by channeling it into a cheerful, upbeat jazz arrangement. And the group’s goal of fun is furthered by its uptempo approach. “I went through some times playing music professionally where I felt too serious about what I was doing,” McDermott admits. “Being lighthearted and playful is a focus of what this band is about.”
McDermott readily acknowledges that Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox serves as an inspiration for what her band does. “It’s fun to create that jazz vibe for songs where the chord progression might not be very prominent,” she says.
Pimps of Pompe isn’t only about reinventions: The EP features a pair of McDermott originals and readings of songs by gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. But, for its live performances, the group puts primary focus on the hybrid form, with covers of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop.”
McDermott says that the EP is designed “to express the range of what we do, but I chose songs that we can deliver with some kind of connection.”
Learn more and find the album at mandocynmusic.com/pop.
Rhythm is traditionally a key component in music. But, especially within the jazz idiom, some groups craft a sound that doesn’t include a drummer. In the tradition of trios led by Art Tatum, Tal Farlow and other greats, Asheville’s Up Jumped Three makes original instrumental jazz with saxophone, guitar and upright bass. The trio’s latest release is a self-titled album.
“As with any jazz group, rhythmically and harmonically, the center is the bass,” says Bryan White, Up Jumped Three’s bassist. “And one of the cool things about thinking about time in that way — everybody is responsible for it — is that we all take on that responsibility to keep up, keep rooted and keep moving.”
Up Jumped Three’s music does move. Each of the three musicians — White, saxophonist Frank Southecorvo and guitarist Tim Winter — composes. “We all write independently, but the arranging and the final coloring, so to speak, we do as a group,” explains White. “What really makes everything come alive is how we arrange [the music].”
Improvisation and the open-ended musical values of free jazz greatly inform the trio’s approach, but there’s a sense of structure at work as well. “We’re all influenced by more modern jazz aesthetics and even classical, in some cases,” White says. “We’ll sometimes write a fully composed melody section, and then have a separate set of changes to solo on, or we’ll have an unwritten melody section in the middle, where it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve played the composed portion. Now let’s blow!’”
The 14 tracks on Up Jumped Three were all recorded live in the studio, with a minimum of postperformance fixes; that approach was essential to preserving the music’s organic feel. White says that a level of unspoken communication is essential to making the trio’s music work in a live setting. “It’s a balance between listening with your ears and ‘listening’ with your eyes,” he says. “The communication is musical, but it’s also multisensory in a lot of respects.”
The three musicians have been together as Up Jumped Three for more than five years. White says that over time, he and his bandmates have become collectively more willing to experiment musically. “We’re more comfortable with deconstructing our early tunes and doing new things with them,” he says. “It’s amazing, the ease with which new things come together. New ideas spring forth, ideas you didn’t think about before.”
Learn more and purchase the album at upjumpedthree.bandcamp.com.