So I saw these guys live before I ever listened to a record, and that has really predisposed me to like them. I had only heard one cover they did and was not prepared for how much fun they were live. I have no idea what I would have made of this record if I hadn’t seen them live first, though I suspect I still would have liked it.
The Joe Policastro Trio are a bit like earlier Bad Plus with a guitarist instead of a pianist. They may be a bit less harmonically interesting but they’re very much in a similar vein. (When I say I’m pretty sure I would have liked it without seeing them live first, it’s because of how spiritually similar they are to the Bad Plus in some ways.)
This is particularly true of the source material, which is extremely varied: Bacharach, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Pixies, Bee Gees, Prince, some Philly Soul, Pink Floyd, Tom Waits and the Cars. Like I said, it’s varied. Many different genres and multiple decades. What I want to see in a modern jazz repertoire.
Dave Miller is a pretty fun guitarist, though he is more interesting and compelling live in my opinion. Joe Policastro, the leader, is a fine bassist. Mikel Avery is a really engaging and fun drummer live. It’s a little lost on record, the kinds of things he gets up to with his sticks and brushes. But that could also be my ear.
They’re certainly not reinventing the wheel. It’s fine post bop, with decent solos and vamps and a sense of playfulness (which is more evident in concert). But the variety of the material, for me, makes it stand out and makes it more engaging than I might have found it if it was all standards or originals.