Let me set the scene – irresponsible lovers are canoodling in semi-lit booths, the jukebox is playing some old tunes by Frank and there’s some people over there who never want to fall in love again. It’s the last bar still open and the piano player mooches over to the battered grand. This guy, we know, is great. He expertly and succinctly slides in words like “iconoclast”, “apropos”, “tumult” and “ludicrous”, he even name checks Constantinople – that’s proper old school.
For those celebrated guys who hit on the standards – Monk, Cohen, Bacharach, even Merle Haggard, Howe Gelb is creating new tunes with cathartic one-liners and malleable melodies that suggest any singer could interpret these dozen American piano ballads and take his offbeat worldview and make it their own. Who wouldn’t want to begin the beguine with the line “World peace declared, no problem spared…”?
These are Future Standards by The Howe Gelb Piano Trio, taking an outsider view of early gospel and rhythm and blues both part of the American musical socialization that he touched on with 2006’s ‘Sno Angel’. Now he’s on a jazz-tinged trip, bending the genre, taking it back to his shack, giving an innovative fine tune in the lean-to garage.
Don’t forget, Gelb is a man who’s done acoustic sets where he sings into the pick up of his guitar, he’s rocked out with Giant Sand, re-shaped alt-country and has a back catalogue that’s nothing short of “im-press-ive”. He knows a melody when he plays it.