Dizzy get busy at the Red Stag
Once upon a time in America, hip and funky were synonymous. But somewhere in the last twenty years, hipster went from being a term to describe jazz fans to being a term to describe waif-ish twentysomethings in Brooklyn--people who wouldn't know a swung eighth note if it came up and knocked the PBR out of their ironic koozie. I blame the drum machine.
And so Dizzy are pretty resolutely unhip in the modern world, and maybe not even hip in the 1940s sense of the word. They traffic in standards and jazz-lite takes on current songs, with the clearest straight line connecting to the slick pop of Randy Newman or maybe Harry Connick, Jr. In short, not a band that Nikki Miller would probably be into. They are, not entirely surprisingly, a band that will cop to being influenced by John Mayer--and who are actually playing Mayer's song "Gravity" while I'm writing this sentence. But honestly, I think I might prefer their version to Mayer's. After all, Mark Johnson's voice has more natural grain and gravel to it than Mayer's, and a Thursday evening at the Red Stag seems like a much better fit for the modest pleasures of a deft lyrical trope about one of the universe's fundamental forces than, say, the Target Center.
Besides, there's just something about a singer with a music stand.
Dizzy at Dunn Bros. Wine Bar in Excelsior
As Johnson calls "Gravity" to a close over some genuinely warm organ swells, he calls a friend up from the big table directly in front of where the band's set up. She's unassuming, her hair pulled back into a long braid down her back. Grey sweater, cordoruoys. When she starts belting out a jump blues, the guitarist chunking chords behind her, she reveals a fine jazz voice with a good deal more growl than her modest appearance would suggest.
Nothing's out of place in the music, but nothing's risky either. But then again, where a good stage show might make up for rudimentary musical ability, you can't discount how much a humble and kind of endearing squareness can enhance serious chops. Dizzy are so utterly unpretentious in the way they go about swinging easily through tunes that you can't hold their total appropriateness against them.
Not that all standards are completely appropriate; Cole Porter was a genius, but there's always something a little creepy about "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." When Johnson rejoins the band after a short break, they slide easily into "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," perhaps best known in its version from Derek & the Dominos' Layla, but it's actually an almost ancient tune, written in 1923 by Jimmy Cox and popularized by the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. And again, Dizzy renders it with pure class.
Of course, when you're covering material, every song is a roll of the dice. "Hallelujah" doesn't work nearly as well, bearing nothing of the shredded ache of Jeff Buckley's version, nor the stoic questioning of Cohen's original. The swung, gospel bluesiness sounds vanilla and matte, without real character.
But they quickly slide back into the pocket, the guitarist picking up a trumpet, and once again, a nonchalant approach to soulfulness doesn't seem like such a crime. The band's enjoying themselves, nodding along to each other's leads, the modest but attentive audience bursting out into sharp rolls of applause at each solo's conclusion.
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