Swing is hard to define, but it’s the difference between ripe cherries and a cherry candy “with natural flavors” synthesized in a laboratory. I’m happy to report that the CD that pairs tenor saxophonist Enric Peidro and trombone legend Dan Barrett is satisfying swinging jazz throughout. In fact, it reaches new heights in the most refined yet impassioned ways.
Let’s start at the back of the bandstand, or the bottom of the band (no offense intended), the fine rhythm section. I didn’t know pianist Richard Busiakewicz, bassist Lluis Llario, or drummer Carlos “Sir Charles” Gonzalez before this recording, but I love them. Their swing is unforced and easy; they know how, what, when, why, and when not to . . .
But before I write more, here’s a sonic sample, celebrating both Vic Dickenson (the composer) and his horticultural endeavors:
The question of what is “authentic” is treacherous, because we defend our subjectivities with a lover’s defensive ardor, but that performance feels both expressive and controlled in the best ways. Forget for a moment the warm twenty-first century recording technology. If I heard that track, coming after a 1945 Don Byas-Buck Clayton Jamboree 78 and a Mel Powell Vanguard session, I would not think VIC’S SPOT an impostor. Swing is more than being able to play the notes or wear the hat; it’s a world-view, and this quintet has it completely.
Barrett remains a master — not only of the horn, but of what I’d call “orchestral thinking,” where he’s always inventing little touches (on the page or on the stand) to make any performance sound fuller, have greater rhythmic emphasis and harmonic depth. I’ve seen him do this on the spot for years, and his gentle urgency makes this quintet even more a convincing working band than it would have been if anyone took his place. And as a trombonist, he really has no peer: others go in different directions and woo us, but he is immediately and happily himself, totally recognizable, with a whole tradition at his fingertips as well as a deep originality.
But Dan would be the first one to say that he is not the whole show: this CD offers us a swinging little band. We’ve all heard recordings, some of them dire, where the visiting “star” is supported by the “locals,” who are not up to the star’s level: many recorded performances by Ben Webster immediately come to mind.
AND THE ANGELS SWING is the glorious countertruth to such unbalanced affairs, because Enric Peidro, who was new to me before I heard this CD, is a masterful player. He’s no one’s clone — I couldn’t predict what his next phrase would be or where his line of thought would go — and although he is not cautious, he never puts a foot wrong. You can hear his gliding presence on the track above, and for me he summons up two great and under-praised players, primarily Harold Ashby, but also a cosmopolitan Paul Gonsalves with no rough edges. He is a fine intuitive ensemble player, with an easy sophistication that charms the ear. I think of the way Ruby Braff appeared in the early Fifties: someone not afraid to play the melody, to improvise in heartfelt ways, to eschew the harder aspects of “modernism” without being affected in any reactionary ways.
Add to this a set of delightful song choices, with a great deal of variety but not so much that the ear is startled when track 4 becomes track 5, and you have a delightful session. The tunes are: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME into KANSAS CITY STRIDE / ‘DEED I DO / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / AND THE ANGELS SWING / SERENADE TO SWEDEN / IF I DIDN’T CARE / MY BLUE HEAVEN / VIC’S SPOT / SULTRY SERENADE — you’ll hear echoes of 1939 Basie and Ellington, but there’s no attempt to “reproduce” — just to play with ease, warmth, and wisdom.
If you need any more verification, know that Scott Hamilton approves of Enric!
You can learn more about Enric and his love of swing here — where I just learned that he and Dan have a new CD coming out this October, called IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING . . . what fun!
And here’s another taste from AND THE ANGELS SWING:
Let us — metaphorically at least — carry this band around the room on our shoulders. Or we can strew flowers at their feet, whichever is easier.
May your happiness increase!