The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”
If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.
Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.
As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out. Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing. Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.
Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster. (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.) And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.
Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases. She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace. In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else. He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental. So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints. The music breathes comfortably and well.
Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube. And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.
A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:
May your happiness increase!