Jewels and Binoculars jazz up Dylan numbers

Musicians generally enjoy playing "stump the audience", but that on-stage ploy backfired big-time for Jewels and Binoculars during a recent swing through the redwood forests of Humboldt County, California. The all-instrumental trio has an unusual approach: plundering Bob Dylan's back catalogue for songs that can be turned into convincing modern jazz. Sometimes those extrapolations can venture fairly far afield, but it wasn't a game of "name that tune" that cost the players a night's profit during this particular West Coast sojourn.

"Our bassist, Lindsey Horner, was in the habit of saying to the audience, 'If you can recite the whole verse that our name comes from, you win a free CD,'" relates Michael Moore, the group's saxophonist and clarinetist, calling from his home in Amsterdam. "Well, after this one gig people were lined up for their free CD; all these hippies that lived out in the woods. Lindsey was going, 'What was I thinking? I forgot where I was!'"

The verse in question comes from "Visions of Johanna", off Dylan's 1966 masterpiece Blonde on Blonde. But it's unlikely that Horner, Moore, and drummer Michael Vatcher will be making the same offer this time around–not when their itinerary includes shows in Duncan, on Hornby Island, and in Roberts Creek.

Attentive readers have probably already figured out that this Michael Moore is not the Sicko filmmaker but rather the American-born musician who recently appeared as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival's New Dutch Swing 2007 series. There, he appeared with the ICP Orchestra in a program of performance art–inspired free improvisation, but Jewels and Binoculars is a much more melodic undertaking.

Still, when he and his colleagues stretch out on something as melodically unpromising as "Blind Willie McTell" or "Cold Irons Bound"–both covered on their third CD, Ships With Tattooed Sails–the results can be startling. Moore credits this to Vatcher's vivid imagination: "There's not so much for a drummer to do in this music," he says, "but if you really pick and choose your textures–you know, a different one for each song–it can become a lot more interesting."

Jewels and Binoculars play the Western Front on Sunday (July 15).