Some albums are so iconic it’s hard to think of the songs any other way. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run — which came out 40 years ago this month — would certainly seem to be one of those albums. And yet, Paul Jost has come up with a new way to play the songs that seems not only daring, but fitting.
Jost, who lives in Vineland, is a jazz musician, and was commissioned to come up with a jazz interpretation of Born to Run for the Exit 0 jazz festival in Cape May, in May. He did so, but is continuing to perform “Springsteen Reimagined” at other venues as well. He brought the piece to the 55 Bar in New York on Wednesday, singing and playing harmonica, with backing by Jim Ridl on piano, John Swana on EVI, Tony Miceli on vibes, Chico Huff on bass and Anwar Marshall on drums.
EVI? That’s short for electronic valve instrument, which is kind of like a synthesizer for horn players, and functioned something like a saxophone in this band. Not that Swana was interested in reproducing Clarence Clemons’ parts, note for note. Jost, working with arranger Barry Miles, has deconstructed and then reconstructed Born to Run, ignoring certain riffs but building on others and letting them take him and his bandmates to new places. He’s stretched Born to Run out in a way that makes this piece feel both very familiar and very new.
He tinkered with the song order, opening with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” for instance — his most groove-oriented remake — and moving album opener “Thunder Road” (his most straightforward reinterpretation, with just piano, vocals and harmonica) to the middle of the set. “Night” and “Backstreets,” which appear back-to-back on the album, became a medley.
Jost sometimes recited the lyrics instead of singing, or staked out a middle ground between the two modes. By doing so, he emphasized the streetwise romanticism in Springsteen’s lyrics, and added a kind of earthy, beatnik-inspired flavor that reminded me of Tom Waits and early Rickie Lee Jones. So there was definitely a dark, retro element to Jost’s interpretation, though the piece also had a fanciful side, with Miceli’s fast and colorful vibes runs and Swana’s futuristic sound effects.
Each musician had ample opportunity to solo, and yet this piece as a whole felt very cohesive, with waves of tension and release that recalled the flow of the album that inspired it.
Jost and his band will perform “Springsteen Reimagined” at the Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro in Somers Point, Sept. 18.
For more information on Jost, visit pauljostmusic.com.