Intervention Records has been looking sharp with deluxe vinyl reissues of some of Joe Jackson’s most treasured albums, including I’m the Man, Night and Day, and yes, Look Sharp! Now, the label has returned to the singer-songwriter-piano man’s oeuvre with one of his lesser-known, latter-day efforts: Summer in the City: Live in New York. The album was recorded in August 1999 in the intimate environs of Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, and released on Sony Classical. It came as a surprise – and a relief – to many of the ever-evolving artist’s fans, who feared he’d given up on pop after such classically-oriented projects as Night Music, Heaven and Hell, and the Grammy-winning Symphony No. 1. Intervention’s deluxe vinyl reissue marks its first appearance in the format.
Joining Jackson at Joe’s Pub and on Summer in the City were veterans Graham Maby (of the original Joe Jackson Band) on bass and Gary Burke on drums. The eclectic, rhythmic set was heavy on covers, with the small, tight group drawing on pop and jazz standards alongside Jackson’s own classic compositions. The title, of course, derived from The Lovin’ Spoonful’s rocking 1966 chart-topper, with Jackson pounding the piano. He, Maby, and Burke play as one unit throughout the album – engaged, energetic, and absorbing.
Though the album eschews renditions of Jackson’s familiar hits, longtime fans were rewarded with an array of his deep cuts and favorites from his entire career. “Fools in Love” dated back to Jackson’s 1979 debut Look Sharp! and though it lost much of its reggae flavor in the stripped-down performance, it gained a musical cousin as part of a medley with The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” penned by Graham Gouldman. Night and Day, arguably Jackson’s most beloved album (and certainly his most successful) is represented by the shimmering “Another World,” its opening song, in which Maby takes a standout solo. “Obvious Song” from 1991’s Laughter and Lust is a hard-hitting (musically and lyrically) slice of social commentary, and “It’s Different for Girls” from sophomore album I’m the Man is another moment in the artist’s astute, sharply-observed vein. The personal is as close to Jackson as the political, however, and that side is well-covered on Summer in the City. The heartfelt “Be My Number Two” from 1984’s Body and Soul segues into another tender slice of semi-autobiography, “Home Town” from 1986’s Big World. A more scathing view on romance comes from Look Sharp!‘s propulsive, fast-and-furious “One More Time.”
The covers are wildly, and happily diverse, from Duke Ellington’s 1930 “Mood Indigo,” led with affection by a soulful Jackson at the piano to Billy Page’s swingin’ ode to “The In Crowd” (in instrumental form, paying tribute to the Ramsey Lewis Trio recording, melded to Jackson’s own Blaze of Glory tune “Down to London”) and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” boiled down to its pensive essence sans Sir George Martin’s powerful, slashing strings. Steely Dan’s “King of the World” is a much more uptempo moment. In this sleek performance, sounds as if Jackson could have written it himself.
One song on this set implores “You Can’t Get What You Want.” But Intervention’s splendid reissue handily disproves that. Kevin Gray has beautifully remastered Summer, which has been pressed on two 180-gram vinyl discs. Intervention, as always, has supplied details on the mastering. Gray worked from new high-resolution digital files prepared by Mike Piacentini at Sony’s Battery Studios from the original DATs with the final mixes. Additionally, Intervention consulted with original recording engineer Remote and Jackson’s co-producer Sheldon Steiger to ensure that all of the sonic details were correct. The same attention to detail is present on the packaging. Summer is housed within a “tip-on” gatefold printed by Stoughton. This attractively-designed sleeve is sturdy and film-laminated.
Like Elvis Costello, another artist to whom Joe Jackson is rightfully or wrongfully often compared, Jackson has always followed his muse through various genres and styles of music. Summer in the City is a vibrant look at both his own cherished catalogue and some of the songs that have presumably influenced and inspired him in his own musical journey. As such, it’s an enjoyable listen, and a live album worth revisiting for audiophiles, fans, and collectors alike in Intervention’s first-class vinyl reissue.