Photograph by David Benbennick, c/o Wikipedia
The image above is of a Möbius strip: it has only one side and you keep traveling around it without beginning or end. You could look it up, as Ring Lardner wrote. It is artifact, concept, and metaphor all in one.
How does this relate to music? First, a sample: BUGS PARADE, composition and arrangement by Billy Moore, recorded by the 1940 Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra:
It’s 2017. How would a group of living musicians deal with this work of art? One approach would be to attempt to reproduce it exactly: transcribe the recording, rehearse it with a select group of musicians — the same number and instrumentation — so that one could hear it live. Hard work with often beautiful results. Another approach — at the other end of the spectrum — would be to shatter the original through mockery, to draw an unflattering caricature of the original.
Dan Block, one of the most consistently inspired creators I know, respects the music of the Swing Era and knows it deeply, but has chosen his own path through these two polarities. It’s hard to explain verbally, but it works in the same way the Möbius strip does: one reveres the original but opens it up innovatively (the artists we respect now were in some way all radical innovators) before returning home to the Palace of Swing. Dan and his comrades: Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, string bass; Alvester Garnett, drums, did this ten times at an ecstatic musical evening at Smalls on February 3. Here are three glorious examples — which also stretch the boundaries of the 78 rpm disc above.
HARLEM CONGO, associated with Chick Webb:
Benny Carter’s lovely NIGHTFALL:
And, yes, the aforementioned BUGS PARADE:
You will notice I haven’t said anything about the players or the performances. This band is explosively energized and deeply lyrical, often at the same time.
A postscript: I hope no one feels compelled in the name of red-label Columbias and sunburst Deccas to write in, “I like the originals better.” Consider that Dan’s reinventions are meant to honor the original lively and lyrical spirits of these Thirties recordings: otherwise why spend the time creating his own tributes? They are not desecrations in any way.
A more cheerful postscript, Dr. Eugenia Chang’s Möbius bagel and lox:
May your happiness increase!