Jimi Hendrix’s distorted rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock was famously controversial, and some critics heard it as an anti-war or even anti-American statement. However, as Hendrix clarified in an interview with Dick Cavett, he wasn’t purposefully being irreverent; he explained, “I thought it was beautiful.” Similarly, a jazz purist who listens to the live debut album from the Swedish/French outfit Peeping Tom (not to be confused with the Mike Patton band), full of unorthodox takes on jazz standards, may accuse the outfit of murdering the classics. The group, a trio of talented musicians all in their twenties, actually has a deep appreciation for bebop, tackling numbers from the likes of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk with nods to free jazz and a penchant for using extended techniques.
There are fleeting moments with snippets of recognizable themes played by alto saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux, but generally, the players are apt to run around in all directions. It only takes ten seconds for the opening track, Charlie Parker’s “Koko,” to urgently dive into a harsh grinding sound, made by Joel Grip on double bass, and after thirty seconds, Badaroux erupts into sax squawking. The delivery features a constant jittery motion and propelling intensity, and at times, Grip plays the bass so hard that the strings clatter against the fingerboard. The next track uses three Thelonious Monk numbers, marked by the use of wispy string harmonics and Antonin Gerbal’s ADHD-stricken drumming, which seems to decisively use no coherent rhythm for more than a few seconds at a time.
An oddball track, nestled among the rapid-fire numbers, is an enigmatic take on Parker’s “Mohawk,” which stretches its arms and doesn’t feel a need to fill every space with volume. However, the key to understanding the intentions of the album arrives at its very last track, a roaring, fluid cover of “Donna Lee” (by Parker and Miles Davis), which has a similar approach to the rendition made by Anthony Braxton, the unconventional saxophonist and composer. Braxton aficionados are reminded of his own tribute, Charlie Parker Project, which actually shares three Parker numbers with this Peeping Tom album. It would be incorrect to dismiss the fireworks display of File Under: Bebop as being irreverent. In fact, it actually has reverence on two levels: for the original bebop sources, and also for nonconformists like Braxton who radically re-imagined that material.