Daily Archives: October 18, 2011

MEET “LES SWINGBERRIES”!

These delightful performances — poised yet utterly relaxed — emerged on YouTube only two weeks ago.  I’ve been enjoying them over and over: they owe a good deal to the glory days of the John Kirby Sextet, always a debt to be celebrated.  The four musicians here are trumpeter / arranger Jérôme Etcheberry, the cherished clarinetist Aurélie Tropez,  pianist Jacques Schneck, and guitarist Nicolas Montier.  In the great tradition of “swinging the classics,” les Swingberries offer Offenbach’s “Cancan” from Orpheus in the Underworld:

From Hades to religious exaltation might be a substantial leap, but not for this compact hot band — here, they perform Youmans’ HALLELUJAH:

It looks like a happy band — that’s why LAUGHING AT LIFE (with hints of BROADWAY, Charlie Christian, and Lester Young) seems just right:

Another “classical” piece — the RADETZKY MARCH by Johann Strauss — is transformed into the “JAZZETZKY MARCH,” and not a moment too soon.  Admire the clarinet-guitar duet: simple splendor!

Here’s a romping BLUE ROOM (leaving no time for “my wee head upon your knee,” because that knee is rocking so violently):

I hear beautifully-executed ensemble work, lovely tempos, exquisite solo playing (not a note too many), and a deeply felt intuitive swing.  The group isn’t copying — they’re evoking and reinventing in their own ways — but if I heard this music in the other room, I could be fooled into thinking that 1941 had come again.  And I would want to follow those notes!  And for connoisseurs of “. . . they sound like,” I would offer the little band that Lester and Shad Collins led in 1941, the Goodman Sextet of that same year, the early-Forties Teddy Wilson groups with joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, Ed Hall, Jimmy Hamilton.  V-Discs and Keynote Records, too.  But they sound just wonderful — as a new species of delicious jazz fruit.

My only complaint is that they seem to be playing in someone else’s living room.  Why not mine?

REBECCA AMIDST THE REEDS at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I’ve seen the peerless singer Rebecca Kilgore perform live for the past seven years, and have always marveled how easily she made herself — and everyone else — comfortable in ad hoc situations.  And her easy confidence radiates to the other musicians; we in the audience feel it, too.  No one sits tensely on the edge of a seat when Becky takes the mike to sing: we know that something good, something surprising and persuasive, is coming.

It certainly happened at her closing set of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, which took place on Sunday, September 5, 2011.  Someone had the interesting idea of splitting the RK4 (that’s the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, the group formerly known as BED) into two.  In one room, Dan Barrett and Joel Forbes improvised alongside pianist Chris Dawson, reedman Jim Galloway, and drummer Frank DiVito.  I’m sure that was a delight.  Down the hall, Becky found herself surrounded by clarinets — Bob Draga and Chloe Feoranzo, with comrade Eddie Erickson on the stand and the irreplaceable pianist / singer Mark Shane.

What resulted was superb, and you can see for yourself.

Becky began with a song — of no great lyrical depth but immensely memorable — that I’d never heard her sing before, THE FLAT FOOT FLOOGIE (which segued into a later bit of pop drollery, SHOO FLY PIE AND APPLE PAN DOWDY, known only to scholars of dance-band arcana).  But she and the band floated on air, with our without a floy floy:

Another new-old song, YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS, was more lyrically dense but equally rewarding:

Becky then became a fine rhythm guitarist, while the clarinetists, Mark, and Eddie capered around in BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN at a nice tempo:

Becky teased us and the audience about Eddie Erickson’s feature, WHAT’LL I DO? as a genuine weeper, but at heart she’s right — what a lovely performance of that beautiful song, with Eddie’s voice full of shadings that change from word to word:

Usually pianists as splendidly gifted as Mark Shane choose to wow the crowd with a stride firecracker for a feature — but our Mr. Shane is a wily programmer, and he called the 2:19 BLUES (or MAMIE’S BLUES) for his star turn, which led to a deep-blue seven minute performance of which Mr. Morton would (“no doubt”) have approved:

In response to an audience member’s request, Becky tenderly sang that Swing Era carpe diem,  A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY, in duet with Mark — the result touching without being sentimental:

And the whole group re-assembled so that Becky could lead them out with a hymn to self-love in the form of snail-mail: I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER:

What grace!  Thanks to Becky and the ensemble, and special thanks to the Canadian Board of Film for its gracious assistance.  This posting was made possible by a grant from the Frida Foundation.

P.S.  While I was writing this post, I took a phone call from my friend Destiny Sneath and explained what I was doing.  “You won’t believe it,” I said.  And — she knows the right thing to say — Destiny replied, “I can’t wait!”  This one’s for you, Destiny — and for all of us who admire our Miss Kilgore.