Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
When it comes to instrumental covers of popular music, my go-to is the edgier jazz artists–you probably know the ones I mean. They are lovable troublemakers, but sometimes their jarring ways, all the virtuoso-signaling, is not what the mood calls for. More and more I appreciate instrumentalists who play the melody straight, who embrace the original arrangement of the song and work within its comforting confines.
The trick is that a more modest and direct approach can wash the color out of a song–it becomes the music you hear when the bank puts you on hold. A good cover has a proper edge to it: there’s embellishment and surprise in it, a searching quality, a point of view–all the things missing from the music that elevators listen to during their work hours. For me, the Michael Udelson Trio brings all the good aspects to their jazzy treatments, and leaves behind the undesirable bits.
The band has so far released two recordings, both of them cover albums: Irrational Numbers and Minor Infractions (2015 and 2016). (During the COVID lockdown period, the trio got together virtually to share some new material with fans–so maybe there’s more albums coming in the future.) This next part I find mystifying: these two albums and the songs on them have a vanishingly small number of views/plays. (Probably most of those plays are mine.) The trio’s most popular track on Spotify is their take on Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” It has 17,000 plays. For every other Udelson track, Spotify displays a blank instead a number in the “Plays” column–which why the phrase “vanishingly small” seems apt. It’s fair to ask how that 17,000 figure compares to any jazz piano version of “Paranoid Android.” Here’s a point of comparison: Brad Mehldau’s cover has nearly 5,000,000 plays.
Few seem to know or care about MUT–not even its own members, as we’ll see shortly. So who are these guys, and where their fans at?