Adam Roberts is schizo-rama. On the one hand, he's the Dr. Jekyll of jazz, a serious-as-cancer student of the form who tosses around names like Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, and Bill Frisell. On the other -- slightly hairier -- hand, he's Mr. Hyde, a mad beast intent on unshackling himself from jazz's rigid norms. But the former rock guitarist has found a way to reconcile his dual personalities with Wicked Children, a crowd-pleasing collective specializing in jazz versions of Radiohead songs.
Radiohead? Jazz? What the hell?
As high-concept as it sounds, Wicked Children is no one-note wonder begging for attention with an unorthodox approach. Rather, Roberts is a no-nonsense kinda fellow who views his group as a bridge spanning the generations, something that Radiohead itself has done to an extent with its hybrid Pink Floyd-meets-R.E.M. sound.
"When you hear us," says Roberts of his band, "you can expect to hear the familiar, only bent into new shapes and painted in all different colors. Musically, there aren't too many rock bands that have enough going on to make them interesting for jazz. I'm a big fan of off-the-radar bands and of a lot of classic groups that had a great impact. I'd love to do something with David Bowie's work, and the Flaming Lips are pretty ripe for material, [but] most rock is just a few riffs in one key, so there's not much to play off of or explore.
"Radiohead is pretty unusual in that all of their tunes have a lot going on in them. They're really dense and full of interesting melodies. Every time I check out one of their tunes, I find new ideas and sounds I've either never heard before or never heard in that way."
Similarly, it's safe to say that you've never heard anything quite like Wicked Children. The band utilizes high, low, and middle reeds, trumpet, keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals to create what Roberts describes as "a giant ball of energy. We play with the fire of an arena band, but the audience gets the luxury of the intimate view."
That audience skews heavily toward the young and the hip, which is one reason Wicked Children landed the plum headlining gig for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's way-popular Buzz: Fall SMoCA Night on Thursday, November 3.
"Jazz is definitely going strong with young audiences," says Roberts. "There's a new, modern breed of [jazz] musician out there that's taking the traditional, standards-based music that we've been beating to death since bebop and throwing it out altogether. Instead, we're trying to take all this information we have access to -- all this great music from all over the world -- and creating a new place to go that isn't the same ding-ding-a-ding shtick. I've seen a really positive response from younger crowds, because our music is influenced by the same things they're already listening to. Really, we're just expanding on the language they already know and understand."