“Panorama City,” the sonic collaboration between instrumental quartet Double Naught Spy Car and eclectic singer/songwriter Stew (The Negro Problem), is an ambitious undertaking. Although it ultimately falls a bit short in my opinion, all involved deserve credit for their attempt to make free jazz with a pop goal.
A decade ago, Stew and DNSC convinced the American Composer’s Forum to give them a recording grant to finance the undertaking. There would be no rehearsing, no second takes, no jamming. Instead, the five musicians would set about creating instant songs, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. After three days and hours and upon hours of recording, the tapes sat in the vault for 10 years. Until now.
The expanded takes — some running 17-20 minutes were edited into a traditional song structure — or at least as close to traditional as they could get — and the result is “Panorama City,” a 10-track, 49-minute slab that despite its hit-and-miss nature, is never less than compelling.
There are tunes that really work (“Sweet Jackie’s Revenge,” “Marcy Boo Coo,” “Bumpin’ Morton Subotnick,” “Behind My Green Door”) and tunes that miss the mark (“Chat Noir,” “Blue Dust,” “Batgirl”) but all in all “Panorama City” merits a spin or two. And if you like what you hear — and half a day or so to kill — check out the digital-only “Panorama City Extended Tracks.” It includes almost four hours of the original session recordings as they occurred in real time. Good luck. (Jeffrey Sisk)