This is an irresistible CD. The first time I put it in the player, after about a half-chorus, I leaned forward and raised the volume. When I had heard Naomi sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? for the first time, I played it again. And then again. And several times over. And (I know this might seem monotonous) I played the disc again from the start. That should serve as the JAZZ LIVES Seal of Approval, shouldn’t it? (Note: the apostrophe in the title is also a hilarious gift to us.)
If you visit YouTube and type in “Naomi Uyama,” you will find many videos showing her as a championship swing dancer. But I first encountered Naomi as a singer, and a fine one — singing a chorus from a Boswell Sisters recording alongside Tamar Korn and Mimi Terris — on a cold night in 2009 outside Banjo Jim’s. Naomi and her expert friends resurfaced with their first CD, which I reviewed here with great pleasure in August 2014.
Here are several tracks from that CD — to show you that Naomi and her Devils know and knew how to do it. Lil Johnson’s TAKE IT EASY, GREASY:
Something more polite, the Basie GEORGIANNA:
I know I’m getting carried away here — a wonderfully sweet / swinging performance of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU:
The band on THE DEVILS’ MUSIC is of course, Naomi Uyama, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax / clarinet; Jeremy Noller, drums;
Matt Musselman, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano;
Mike Davis, trumpet, and the sessions took place in Chicago in August 2016.
Naomi and the Devils write, “Our hope was to show the growth we’ve had as a unit since our debut album was released 2 years prior. Our focus: having original arrangements of swinging tunes – some well loved by the dance community and other hidden gems. We also added to our line-up, and over half the songs on this album feature Mike Davis on trumpet, expanding our hot horn harmonies and giving us a new sound. Lastly Naomi wrote the band’s first original composition, track 1 “Little Girl Blues,” putting something out there that you can’t hear from any other swing band. With a vintage ear and expertise from recording engineer Alex Hall we’ve mixed and mastered the whole shebang and can’t wait for the world to hear it. We hope you enjoy “The Devils’ Music”.
Now, some comments from me. Naomi, as I hope you’ve already heard, is not just someone who sings: she is a singer, with a voice that’s attractive in itself, which she uses to great effect, depending on the material. She can handle complicated lyrics at a fast tempo; she swings; she has a sure sense of dynamics. She doesn’t copy old records; she doesn’t overdramatize; she understands the songs; she can be rueful, tender, brassy, and she’s always lively. Her phrasing is playful, and she’s no swing robot — by which I mean she’s loose, not repeating a set of gestures. And a witty lyricist on LITTLE GIRL BLUES.
I also think that it is so much harder to sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC than a swing number, and on this delicate love song Naomi captivates me. The same for IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, even when Gerlach’s lyrics defy logic. Her I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY made my living room rock, and I nearly hurt my neck bobbing my head to SHOO SHOO BABY. Having heard Louis, Bing, and Billie make imperishable versions of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, I’ve come to dread contemporary versions, but hers is special, with a hilarious scat break.
That band! I’ve met and admired six of the players in person (to me, their names are an assurance of swing). I bow to them. I’ve not met Jeremy Noller, but he is another Worthy — a rocking Worthy at that. Catch his tom-tom work on ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE. And although the Devils sit so comfortably in a Basie / Lunceford / small-group Ellington groove, there’s a delicious c. 1929 A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, completely convincing. (The band likes to riff, with about half of the tracks arranged by Naomi or Jake: nice uncluttered charts, expertly rehearsed but never stiff.) Naomi lays out on PERDIDO (a good thing, considering the thin lyrics), BLUES WITH A BEAT (a Forties-sounding romp), DELTA BOUND (a pleasure at any tempo), and a grooving THESE FOOLISH THINGS.
This is a long expression of praise, but you will notice I haven’t listed all the delightful moments on the CD; were I to do so, the post would be three times longer.
You can download the CD here ($13) or see how to buy a physical disc on the same page . . . AND . . . you can hear all the tracks on the disc. “If that don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” to quote Jack Teagarden, more or less, on the 1947 SAY IT SIMPLE. For more first-hand information, here is the band’s Facebook page, and here is Naomi’s page.
It’s all quite devilishly wonderful.
May your happiness increase!