Joe Jackson was never much of a conformist. The singer-songwriter followed up his first two albums (which dovetailed with the new wave movement and also reflected a punk spirit) with two stylistic departures before embracing classic songcraft on 1982’s watershed Night and Day. Basking in the success of the album and its singles “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two,” Jackson turned to film scoring with Mike’s Murder, but most of his score was discarded in favor of one by John Barry. Where would he go next? The answer came in 1984 with Body and Soul. Like Night and Day, it was named after a classic American standard. Jackson drew another connection to the past with Body and Soul, wrapping the LP in a sleeve mirroring that of his fellow saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ 1957 Blue Note album Vol. 2. But it wasn’t a mere exercise in jazz. Instead, Jackson and co-producer David Kershenbaum deftly incorporated jazz textures into pop songs that were very much his own. To call it a jazz album or tribute is very much a misnomer; there wasn’t a whiff of pastiche other than the cover. Following its reissues of numerous other Jackson albums, Intervention Records has recently revisited Body and Soul on a hybrid stereo SACD (IR-SCD4), playable on all CD players, and it’s safe to say the album has never sounded better or more present.
The album’s opening track “The Verdict” was inspired by Sidney Lumet’s 1982 film of the same name. It sets the tone for the LP with its big, booming drums (lifelike and immediate on this reissue) and forceful blasts of brass. A bold orchestral pop statement, it successfully channeled the cinematic drama. The most prevalent strain on Body and Soul, however, is that of Latin music. An irresistible and sinuous rhythm provides ironic accompaniment to Jackson’s biting lyrics of “Cha Cha Loco” which leads into another Latin groove – the bolero – on “Not Here, Not Now.” It’s a dark look at a crumbling, or crumbled, relationship, and Jackson’s piano is joined by the unexpected blend of drums and a basic drum machine beat. Further offbeat instrumentation arrives with an appropriately smoky flugelhorn solo while the chorus soars in the manner of a power ballad.
Jackson, on keys, saxophone, and vocals, relied upon a newly-assembled band to bring his compositions to such vivid, vibrant life. His longtime collaborator Graham Maby on bass was joined by Vinnie Zummo on guitar, Ed Roynesdal on keyboards and violin, Tony Aiello on saxophone and flute, Michael Morreale on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Gary Burke on drums. Ellen Foley and Elaine Caswell, who would sing together in Jim Steinman’s Pandora’s Box, lent their voices to the LP. While the band plays throughout the album as a tight unit, room was made for individual members to stretch and shine in the best jazz manner.
The upbeat, sleek, and funky “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want),” with Vinnie Zummo tossing off lithe licks and the Latin-tinged brass again striking a commanding note, is a spin on the kind of jazz-rock associated with groups such as Steely Dan. The peppy tune notched Jackson a top 20 Pop and AC hit in an edited single version. Almost as catchy is the urgent and anthemic “Go for It.” The track is exuberant and joyful in its abandon, with fiery horns blaring at every turn. If anyone ever doubted the influence of Joe Jackson on next-generation piano man Ben Folds, just listen to how Jackson slides up into his falsetto on a certain word or phrase, not to mention the piano-pounding.
The instrumental “Loisada” was the original opener to Side Two. This evocative entr’acte of late-night mood music was led by Tony Aiello’s alto saxophone and Jackson on piano. Elaine Caswell joined the singer on “Happy Ending,” the second single released off Body and Soul. This clever little ’60s pastiche riffs on the lack of innocence compared to the songs that inspired it: “It’s not so easy/It’s ’84 now!” Caswell was a perfect choice as duet partner, and in many ways, this song finds Jackson mining the same musical territory Jim Steinman so successfully echoed on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell minus the gleeful bombast. While it may, indeed, have been 1984, that didn’t stop Jackson from writing one of those innocent pop tunes with the stately piano ballad “Be My Number Two.” This heartfelt declaration sung by a romantically wounded narrator was released as the LP’s third and final single. Body and Soul culminates with “Heart of Ice,” a pulsating, largely instrumental coda with some mantra-like lyrics (“Take a knife/Cut out this heart of ice/Hold it high/Walk into the sun”). It’s fitting that this track provides a final showcase for the tight unit of musicians.
Body and Soul glistens on Intervention’s reissue. The label – always transparent when it comes to mastering sources – has revealed that the SACD has been sourced from the original PCM digital files, remastered to DSD by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. The clarity of the stereo imaging is particularly impressive, as is the fact that Gray has brought out as much warmth as possible in the digital recording. (An early digital album, it was recorded to 32-track at New York City’s Masonic Lodge and engineered by Rik Pekkonen.) There are still hints of the cool, sterile ’80s sound, but the newfound fullness and sharpness is striking especially in regards to the often-brash instrumentation. While it’s best to enjoy Body and Soul in high-resolution on SACD, it will still pack a punch when played on a standard CD player. The disc is housed in a Super Jewel Box with a six-panel foldout booklet replicating the Blue Note-inspired artwork and reprinting the original liner notes. (No new notes have been included.)
Today, Joe Jackson continues to carve out a musically adventurous path; his most recent album, 2019’s well-received Fool, returned him to the four-person lineup of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. Body and Soul remains a multi-genre treat, fusing jazz and Latin rhythms with the artist’s pop sensibilities in a refreshing and original fashion. What’s the verdict? Jackson fans shouldn’t hesitate to add this to their collections.