Violinist Mads Tolling and his band The Mads Men appear at Yoshi’s, with vocal great Kenny Washington. (Courtesy photo)

Mads Tolling turns TV themes into jazz treasures

The latest release by Bay Area jazz violin virtuoso Mads Tolling and his hard-driving jazz quartet is no doubt a concession to the baby boom generation’s sweeping nostalgia for the 1960s — particularly as depicted on television and in the movies.

After all, Tolling and his “Mads Men” bandmates build the recording on some of the most iconic themes of a half-century ago: “The Pink Panther,” “Hawaii Five-0,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

But “Playing the 60s,” released Friday, stretches far beyond the tumultuous era for which it is named.

The album – to be showcased this weekend at Yoshi’s in Oakland – proves that the space age ditties we still hum in the shower (at least those of us who’ve reached our 50s and beyond) are what jazz musicians of every era have always sought: melodies you can’t let go and must make your own.

“These songs cover many moods, from the swinging early 60s stuff to more experimental music we associate with Vietnam and the conflict of the time,” says Tolling, a native of Denmark whose resume includes stints with bassist Stanley Clarke and the Turtle Island String Quartet. “But they’re all emblematic of an era.”

Three minutes into the album, when Tolling’s soaring violin settles into “Meet the Flintstones,” it’s easy to assume that the decade of the Grassy Knoll, Woodstock and the Tet Offensive is to be depicted here as one big “yabba dabba doo time!”

But the doubts quickly disappear, along with the foot-tapping Hanna-Barbera theme, as Tolling and his “Mads Men” brush aside the world of Fred and Wilma in favor of deeper musical truth.

The song is craftily deconstructed, the listener led through ecstatic feats of improvisation, and before you know it the song isn’t “Flintstones” at all, but “I Got Rhythm,” the 1930 Gershwin classic upon which many of great improvisers cut their teeth.

Similar re-creations occur as well on “A Taste of Honey,” which dispenses with Herb Alpert’s brassy staccato in favor of a dead-of-the-night blues groove; and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” which guest vocalist Kenny Washington infuses with gospel feel.

Tolling says the Yoshi’s gig will allow his group to build on its case that the most familiar themes of the 1960s are fertile ground for ad-lib reinvention.

“We are very proud of this album, but the live show will allow us to take these tunes to many new places,” he says.

Mads Tolling & the Mads Men
Where: Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland
When: 6 and 8 p.m. Jan. 29
Tickets: $24 to $49
Contact: (510) 238-9200,
jazz violinKenny WashingtonMads MenMads TollingPlaying the 60sPop MusicYoshi’s

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