Tag Archives: Tschaikovsky

LES SWINGBERRIES: “LAUGHING AT LIFE” (2012)

Imagine a small group — in Whitney Balliett’s words, “flesible, wasteless,” that successfully evokes the best jazz of the Swing Era without copying recorded performances, that is fresh, witty, precise.  Need an anlalogue?  How about Glenn Miller’s Uptown Hall Gang with arrangements and originals by Mel Powell?

This group exists, and they’ve made their first CD — consistently splendid music.    A few of my readers complain that my musical endorsements are nudging them towards ruin, but LES SWINGBERRIES are worth it.

About thirteen months ago, I wrote happily about this group — propelled by their 2011 YouTube videos: click here for that post.

One of the video performances that so captivated me is Les Swingberries’ transformation of Johann Strauss’ RADETZKY MARCH (“JAZZETSKY MARCH” in their hands):

From left to right, they are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet / arrangements; Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Jacques Schneck, piano; Nicolas Montier, guitar.  I haven’t had any contact with Monsieur Schneck, but I admire his light, elegant playing immensely; Monsieur Etcheberry has absorbed all of the good trumpet sounds of this fertile time and processed them through his instrument so that he sounds like himself (with side-glances at the great figures).  Our contact has been limited to mail and cyber-message, but how could I not admire a man who signs himself “Trumpetfully yours“?  (The only inscription that comes close to that is from Hot Lips Page: “Very Blowingly.”)

I’ve been fortunate enough to exchange a few sentences with Mlle. Tropez at the International Jazz Festival at Whitley Bay — where she was not only a charter member of Les Red Hot Reedwarmers but also played some memorable casual swing duets with pianist Paul Asaro.

And Monsier Montier I met for the first time (I hope there will be others) as a wonderfully agile tenor saxophonist at last year’s Sacramento Music Festival.  It came as a huge shock to find out that he is the immensely gifted guitarist in this group, not only echoing Charlie Christian but also Tiny Grimes and a host of other fine players.

But I hear you saying, “OK, I’m sold.  But I can’t fly to France to catch this group in a club or jazz festival.  What shall I do?”

The answer, dear readers, is only a few clicks away.  Les Swingberries have issued their first CD, which is called LAUGHING AT LIFE — not only a song they play but an indication of their buoyant spirits.

The thirteen selections on the disc are varied and lively — two Mary Lou Williams compositions, CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE; Leonard Feather’s SCRAM!  Three other themes are “classics” by Strauss, Tschaikovsky, and Offenbach — initially, I thought of the John Kirby Sextet, but then the heretical whisper came into my mind, “This is better than the Kirby Sextet ever did,” because of a light-hearted rhythmic looseness owing something more to Wilson and Waller than to Kirby.  The group seems to float, and the performances seem too brief (although they are between three and five minutes).  The arrangements are beautifully subtle; on a second or third listening, I found myself marveling at the writing for two horns that suggested a larger ensemble; the fact that a rhythm section of piano and guitar never seemed thin or under-furnished.

Both CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE are lovely mobile mood pieces with inspired playing by each member of the quartet.  LAUGHING AT LIFE has equally hip writing / voicing / harmonized lines that suggest an unissued Keynote Records session tenderly waiting for a twenty-first century jazz archaeologist to uncover it for us.  The group lights up BLUE ROOM and HALLELUJAH! from within; the remaining four performances are originals — one a funny tribute to Rex Stewart, REXPIRATION (where the rhythm section gets some of the waiting-for-Benny feeling of Christian and Johnny Guarnieri, always a good thing).  SCHNECK IT OUT has surprising harmonies yet a walking-down-the-street feeling I associate with YACHT CLUB SWING.  BERRY CRUMBLE is built on BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, but in such a sly way that it would take any listener two or three minutes to uncover those familiar harmonies.

Listening to this CD, I never had the feeling of surfeit that many CDs produce (“Oh, this has been wonderful . . . but eight more tracks?”) — it is a subtle, enriching musical experience, and a lot of fun.

I have some trepidation about delivering my readers into the Land of Downloads, but here is the link to the iTunes site — where one can purchase a song for 0.99 or the whole CD for 10.99. Or, if you prefer your music delivered by the Amazon conglomerate, here is their link.

May your happiness increase.

A GRAND NIGHT at RADEGAST: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN (April 20, 2011)

Last Wednesday, April 20, 2011, I made the now familiar trip to the Radegast Bierhall (131 North 3rd Street, corner of Berry in Brooklyn, New York) to enjoy one of my favorite bands — trumpeter Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers — with the alwys surprising Tamar Korn.

Nick Russo (guitar and banjo) and Rob Adkins (bass) swung out, keeping it all together; the front line was Gordon (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, and quiet moral leadership), Matthew Koza (clarinet), Will Anderson (tenor saxophone).

And here are the festivities, in living HD.

Gordon delights in the songs from certain Disney films, with justification — they’re good songs with good associations.  I connect BARE NECESSITIES with Louis. 

I told Gordon about seeing Louis on television around 1968, singing and playing this song, and (someone’s idea of a clever visual pun) a man in a bear suit came out, danced around Louis, and the bear and Louis may even have performed a little twirl on camera.  Radegast hasn’t yet had anyone come in dressed as a bear; perhaps it will happen.  Bears love sausage, as do men dressed in bear suits:

SHE’S CRYIN’ FOR ME is a New Orleans favorite, composed (I believe) by Santo Pecora, although it was originally called GOLDEN LEAF STRUT, a reference to muta, muggles, or shuzzit:

I never get tired of hearing WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, especially when Tamar sings its message of optimism and resilience:

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND is a new old favorite, dating from 1913, a song Gordon has revived with the GSS (splendidly on their new CD . . . soon to be available where better books and records are sold):

EXACTLY LIKE YOU is from 1930 but still seems fresh, and its message, that the Beloved is precisely the person of our dreams, never gets stale:

BE OUR GUEST is another Disney creation, this time from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I love Gordon’s mock-symphonic treatment, full of crescendo and decrescendo, and all those Italian words.  And the key changes.  Can I be the only person who thinks this line is close to WHEN YOU’RE SMILING?:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA is one of the loveliest songs about going back home to Dixie, and it calls up memories of Bix, Tram, and Jimmy Rushing:

AVALON reminds me of Puccini (and a lawsuit), Al Jolson, the Benny Goodman Quartet, and of course of Miss Korn:

At points, WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS sounds so much like A MONDAY DATE (or MY MONDAY DATE) that Earl Hines should have sued Tschaikovsky for plagiarism:

Think of how much the previous century and this one owe to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler while you listen to I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:

CRAZY EYES is a silly, frisky Gordon Au love song — it would have been a huge hit in 1936, wouldn’t it?:

And while you’re up, give thanks to Irving Berlin, too, for THE SONG IS ENDED and more:

Gordon comes across splendidly — his swing, feeling, and wit — on this glowing, memorable CORNET CHOP SUEY:

LINGER AWHILE is both a sweet sentiment and a swinging song:

Although some of the lyrics of the Disney songs seem too hopeful for reality, I wouldn’t argue with the idea of A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES, which begins in sweet 3 / 4 before becoming a delicately swinging rhythm ballad:

As I write this, it’s gray outside.  But in the world conjured up by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, the SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (at a nice bouncy 1938 Louis tempo) is only a few steps away:

Rather than end the evening with something uptempo, Tamar suggested the wistful and romantic A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, which would be a lovely song even if it didn’t make us think of Louis.  I think that she is expanding her emotional awareness and taking more chances — not that she was a timid singer to begin with:

This posting contains a large number of video performances — too many to be absorbed at a single sitting?  But I couldn’t stand to leave any of them in my camera.  Not sharing them would have seemed selfish.