The cool thing about covering a 60-year-old song is that you probably couldn’t copy the original even if you wanted to, so you might as well take it somewhere weird. That’s the approach Philadelphia jazz guitarist Nick Millevoi opts for on the title track of his new album, Twilight Time, which features an expanded version of his band Desertion Trio putting their spin on various Fifties and Sixties pop tunes. The results are both warmly nostalgic and potently surreal.
As Millevoi and organist Ron Stabinsky launch into the dramatic chords of the Platters’ dreamy 1958 R&B hit, guest vocalist Tara Middleton — often heard with the Sun Ra Arkestra — belts out the opening lines (“Heavenly shades of night are falling/It’s twilight time”), her voice bathed in old-school reverb. Underneath, bassist Johnny DeBlase and drummer Kevin Shea roil and churn in a free-jazz–inspired frenzy that recalls both Many Arms and Coptic Light, intense, challenging avant-rock bands that Desertion Trio’s members formerly played in. (Full disclosure: I’m friendly with the members of Desertion Trio, and have played music with Shea.)
Instead of clashing, the track’s melodic and chaotic elements feel wholly intertwined. As the track progresses, through brief, passionate solos from Millevoi and Stabinsky and on into the song’s yearning bridge, what might seem on the surface like an anarchic deconstruction of a sentimental chestnut starts to feel more like a stakes-raising celebration of the song’s eerie emotional pull. Millevoi & Co.’s gritty take might be anachronistic, but it reminds you both how much power there was in the original, and how many wild sonic textures have arisen in the decades since.