Kamikaze Ground Crew consists of seven members who draw ideas from a vast range of sources. This CD's title refers to the fact that the album consists of covers of all sorts of music, including a pop tune by Bhutan and pieces by Satie, Stockhausen, Jimi Hendrix, Huey "Piano" Smith, Hanns Eisler/Bertolt Brecht, and David Hidalgo. The charts were written by multi-instrumentalists Gina Leishman (accordion, reeds), Doug Wieselman (guitar, balalaika, reeds), and, on "Huey Smith Medley," trumpeter Steven Bernstein.
There's a lot of intelligent, delicately balanced writing here, but some of the songs have humorous qualities as well (see "Redite," from Satie's "Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear"). Leishman's lovely arrangement of Stockhausen's "Capricorn" and "Leo" make the work of this avant-garde composer accessible without compromising it with a mass audience. "Easter Sunday 1935," with music by Eisler and lyrics by Brecht, who wrote it initially as a poem, is a stunning Leishman-arranged track in which Brecht, then in exile, forecasts World War II. On "Electric Landlady" and "Epilogue," both of which have a gospel influence, and the Huey Smith New Orleans R&B medley, the band cuts loose, illustrating that it can play with a wallop as well as sensitivity. Though there's some improvising here, the emphasis is on ensemble playing, and it's excellent -- particularly the clean, warm work of Marcus Rojas, possibly the world's best all-around tuba player, and trombonist Art Baron, who produces a wide variety of timbres, playing both open and muted. -- Harvey Pekar