Policastro — who has worked with artists like Phil Woods, Pat Boone, Jeff Hamilton and Diane Schuur — got his start in the Cincinnati Jazz scene, but in recent years he’s been living in and working out of Chicago, fronting his eponymous trio and playing what he calls “Alternative Jazz,” which includes dips into things like Chamber Jazz and Be Bop, but isn’t bounded by purely Jazz forms.
Featuring guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Mikel Avery, the Joe Policastro Trio routinely tours, traveling across North America playing clubs and festivals. The group has also kept up a steady release schedule since its 2013 debut, West Side Story Suite, a tribute to Leonard Bernstein’s classic work as arranged by Policastro. That unique ability to refresh unexpected songs and compositions to create something new and offer different perspectives on the source material is a running theme throughout the JPT’s four-album catalog, as the group — akin to another popular trio, The Bad Plus — routinely tackles contemporary popular music.
On 2016’s POPS! — the first album to feature the current lineup (plus guest guitarists Andy Brown and Andy Pratt) — Policastro recasted songs like Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me” and Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation” in a new light, while 2017’s Screen Sounds, as the name suggests, featured music from television and film, including the theme songs from Taxi, Kids in the Hall and The Young and the Restless.
The musicians bring their inscrutable chops and telepathic chemistry to original material for the first time with the recently-released Nothing Here Belongs. The album also includes a spacious rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and a vibrant take on Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” on which Policastro slides between the buoyant rhythm and recreating the keyboard leads, Avery twists around shuffling and driving beats and Miller likewise oscillates between the main riff, supple Jazz chords and wiry, progressive soloing that would make Thurston Moore nod along approvingly.
Here are a few samples of the trio's extraordinary renditions: