I didn’t know until researching it that Strawberry Alarm Clock’s ’60s pop smash “Incense and Peppermints” was originally supposed to be an instrumental. According to some band members, the vocals were foisted upon them by management in an attempt to get a big hit. That worked! The tune wasn’t even sung by a member of the band. They brought in some 16-year-old kid to do the chores. Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Mark Weitz and Ed King, who probably wrote most of the melody, claim they were ripped off and never received a penny of income from the song. I am presenting their side of the story as found on the Internet. But from what I can determine, their version seems the most plausible. In a way, trumpeter Mark Rapp has brought the tune full circle by presenting the composition sans vocals.
The last thing I ever expected to hear in my life was a jazz version of this half-bubblegum half-psychedelic number. A few years ago the song was perfectly used in the Austin Powers movie soundtrack. Its catchy melody instantly transported you back to the age of Flower Power. Rapp plays the same melody. After listening to this cut, you will be humming it again and again the same way I have for the last few days. But then Rapp takes another approach. He and his band treat the pop song as a serious composition worthy of an aggressive jazz interpretation. And it works! Rapp captures a bit of Miles Davis flavoring at times. What was once a cute tune becomes imbued with dramatic tension. I suspect no one in Strawberry Alarm Clock could have conceived such a presentation. It will be interesting to see if anyone comes forward claiming credit.
My rating includes 5 extra points for the imagination shown by Rapp in choosing to cover this golden oldie.
– Walter Kolosky, Jazz.com