Despite the fact that jazz is one of the great American art forms, its current popularity among the population is not exactly mass-market. As a result, I'm hesitant to call Let's Go Everywhere, the first kids music CD from the popular modern jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood, a good kids' jazz CD. Because if I did so, I'm afraid that a lot of people that would otherwise enjoy the CD would just tune me out.
Take the insanely catchy title track, which, unlike MMW's previous discography, features vocals (by Tim Ingham) and lyrics that beg for singalongs. The track, which echoes Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere," features throwaway lines like "Tijuana, Grand Bahama, don't forget to call your mama." It's propulsive, hand-clappy, and a poppy hit -- it certainly won't sound like jazz to most people. Or one of the better songs begging for kid-interaction I've heard, "Where's the Music?," a funky jam that breaks down every now and then only to be started up by gleeful kids begging, nay, shouting, "Where's the music?!?"
That's not all. "Pat a Cake," a punky rap featuring a number of kids -- a quick track which, judging by the number of e-mails about it I received after my recent NPR chat, will be heard in a lot of households this spring. John Lurie's spoken-word piece "The Squalb" features gentle musical accompaniment and manages to be mysterious and reassuring all at once -- if you need 3 minutes and 17 seconds of silence via rapt attention in the car, play this track.
I don't mean to give the tracks which do sound more jazzy short shrift, because those are excellent, too. "The Cat Creeps" has a funky, slinky bass line and tinkly piano that absolutely sounds like a cat creeping. "Let's Go" sounds like it could've been recorded 45 years ago in some West Coast studio (except for the kids occasionally shouting "Let's go!" in the background). And for those of you looking for a little deconstruction of classic tunes, "Old Paint" (on which the trio channels the Vince Guaraldi Trio) and a nearly unrecognizable (but fun in its own way) "All Around the Kitchen" will fit the bill.
Out tomorrow, the 40-minute album will appeal mostly to kids ages 4 through 9, but if you're not listening to this and having fun, I don't know what to say. You can listen to four tracks at the album's Myspace page and a couple here.
In the liner notes, both the band and Tim Ingham sound almost surprised at how well the album turned out. The band says "the best part was collaborating, improvising and making new friends. Who this was going to be one of our favorite records." Mine too. That sense of fun and wonder comes through loud and clear on every track. So rather than calling Let's Go Everywhere a good kids' jazz CD, let's call it what it really is -- a great CD. Period. Saying this when the year is barely a week old sounds like damning with faint praise, but it's true -- Let's Go Everywhere is the first great kids' CD of 2008. Highly recommended.