Record Reviews

Looking for a gift for that special person who really deserves it? Or even for someone else? Perhaps a little bit of swing sounds on CD would fit the bill. Here's a few ideas for you.


ArtistTitle

The Ray Gelato Giants: The Men From Uncle

Ray Gelato has been a mainstay of The UK swing/jump-jive scene for nearly two decades now. From his involvement wit The Chevalier Brothers in the early 1980's, Gelato has carried the torch of the Louis Prima/Louis Jordan repertoire through a number of bands. With his current line-up of Giants, he continues that tradition with his best collection yet.

The Men From Uncle is a 17-song set which features most of the favourites from the current stage set. Actually, there are 18 songs here: Americano, the number from the Levi Dockers TV advert is here, although not credited on the sleeve notes. The band sports the same members as well, with Alex Garnett (saxophone), Andy Baker (trombone), Richard Busiakiewicz (piano), Clark Kent (acoustic bass) and Steve Rushton (drums). The only variation is the trumpet duties falling to Enrico Tomasso here, rather than Mark Armstrong. And how nice to see the word 'piano' in the credits, rather than the ubiquitous 'keyboards'.

No-one could argue with the selection of numbers here: they're all straight out of the top drawer. When you cover songs by composers of the calibre of Louis Prima (Angelina/Zoom Zooma), Hoagy Carmichael (Stardust), Louis Jordan (Chicky-Mo) and Irving Berlin (Let's Face The Music And Dance), you start from very safe ground. There's even a minor nod to a contemporary songsmith, with Steely Dan's Donald Fagen contributing Walk Between The Raindrops. Add to that a couple of sprightly originals, Givin' Up Givin' Up and the title track, which capture the spirit of the classics, and you have one classy collection.

The level of musicianship is as high as you would expect from a bunch that has played together so long. Particular mention must be made of Enrico Tomasso's trumpet solo on Stardust, which is a lyrical masterpiece in itself. The mood throughout is one of fun and dance; that was clearly what was happening in the studio, and there's an open invitation to join in.

On the technical side, the set is excellently produced by Peter Tomasso (sure some relation?), who is also responsible for most of the arrangements. Special mention too, for the packaging: Double Scoop Records has put together a highly professional colour booklet with informative sleeve notes and good pictures. This is a terrific set of from one of the UK's top bands and deserves a place in your collection.

Produced by Double Scoop Records (DSCD001)

Available from record stores and the band: visit The Ray Gelato Giants

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Seymour's Jump

Despite being around since 1992, this is the first release from Mark Seymour's band. Seymour got hooked on big band music while playing in an Army Dance band, and went on to become one of Ray Gelato's Giants. Like Gelato, the preference is for the classic songs of the 1940's and 1950's, although the 16 songs on this CD run through to the 70's with Van Morrison's Bright Side Of The Road and Unchain My Heart, popularised most recently by Joe Cocker.

The band is a six-piece, consisting of Steve Knight on vocals, guitar and saxophone, Dave Priseman (trumpet), Perry White (piano), Alex Keen (acoustic and electric bass) and Nigel Tilbury (drums). Mark plays trombone and sings. For a small combo they make a big sound on Duke Ellington's Rockin' In Rhythm. But they can also play the delicate touches to back Seymour on Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon. In a similar style is La Mer (Beyond The Sea), always a welcome break for dancers after some of the faster-paced songs in the live set.

Although it starts a bit like The Madison, Guitar Slim's Shim Sham Shimmy is more r 'n' b than eight-to-the-bar Shim Sham material. This is a stage favourite, with Seymour and Knight trading employing the call-and-response vocal style. There's also a couple of Berlin classics, Cheek To Cheek and Let's Face The Music And Dance.

This CD shows the range and styles of the band from 30's swing to 70's pop. It serves as a really good introduction to Seymour's Jump, and if you like the boys live, this is one for you.

Available from MBS Records (MBS 099 CD)

Visit the web site at www.markseymour.com

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9.20 De-Luxe: Yes ..Say Your feet

9.20 Deluxe were formed in 1998 by Echoes Of Ellington band leader Pete Long. In their first incarnation as The Rioteers, they were Zoot Suit Riot's house band for the first few months at The Improv Club. The name changed to 9.20 Special after that, and then to 9.20 Deluxe in December 1998, when they went into the studio to record a five-track promotional CD. In 1999, the band established themselves as one of the UK's top swing outfits with gigs at The 100 Club and Jitterbugs, as well as a monthly appearance at The Rayners Hotel in Harrow (see Gigs in the Reviews section). On September 12 last year, they made their debut at The Cotton Club, a 1940's music and dance revue, back at The Embassy Rooms (previously known as The Improv).

Yes ..Say Your Feet has 12 tracks that show off all the facets of the band. Actually there are 13 tracks, but the opener, Calling All Gals, is a somewhat bizarre promotion for their new web site, so let's skip hastily on to Old Devil Moon, and the band's non-secret weapon, singer Patti Revell, is immediately to the fore. The classic has a bright and sparkly sound to it, and is taken at a leisurely swinging pace. The tempo slows for the following Black Coffee, but picks up for a highly boisterous rendition of Oo-Bop-Sh'bam, with most members of the band contributing vocals, or at least background shouting.

During the stay at The Improv Club, Pete Long was reacquainted with that great 70's swing tune Oh Lori by The Alessi Brothers. And here it is, beautifully arranged and highly danceable, with Pete Long contributing a fine flute sound. The next five tracks are from the promotional CD. Temptation features Juliet Lewis on Cor Anglais, giving the song a mysterious Eastern quality. Next up, the formerly eponymous 9.20 Special by Count Basie is another excellent instrumental, with the muted trumpets of Noel Langley and Gavin Mallett contrasting well with Long's lyrical saxophone solo. Jumpin' At The Woodside hits the ground running and then sprints into the distance at over 250 beats per minute, powered by the excellent drumming of Chris Dagley. The mood then switches dramatically, as Patti Revell's vocals on Fever slide seductively out of the speakers and slink across the floor. The sparse backing of drums, piano and bass adds to the atmosphere. Then it's samba time, with the horn-driven sound of Manteca.

The CD has a terrific light and airy feel to it, no doubt helped by the live nature of its recording. At the studio in December 1998, the engineers were stunned to see a band with parts written out and playing together, instead of a series of overdubs. The production gives an excellent impression of the live sound of 9.20 Deluxe.

The Late Late Show is another familiar tune, this time taken perhaps a shade too quickly. Again, no doubting the quality of the musicianship, with Clive Dunstall on piano and some fine guitar work by Pete Walton. The mood changes back to slow and seductive again for You're My Thrill, giving Ms. Lewis another chance to excel. The set is wrapped up with Stan Kenton's only danceable tune, Intermission Riff.

All in all, this CD does the band's claim to be the UK's No. 1 swing band no harm at all. It takes some classic tunes and scrubs them up a treat. Shame there wasn't room for Skyliner, Jersey Bounce or their fabulous version of Glenn Miller's Here We Go Again - but they'll be on the next CD, right Pete? On Sunday 2 April, 9.20 Deluxe will be at The New London Theatre in Drury Lane for the relaunch of The Cotton Club. You can catch them this month at The 100 Club on Monday 27 March, and they've already been re-booked for Swing Jam 2000 in August.

No catalogue number.

Available directly from the band, or visit their web site at www.deluxe920.f9.co.uk

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Stacey Kent: Let Yourself Go

Stacey Kent, Britain's 1999 Best Female Jazz vocalist, came to prominence in the UK when she sent a tape of her work to musician and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttleton. His reaction was to immediately bring her work to the attention of his radio listeners. Stacey is best-known to dancers as the singer with the swing orchestra Vile Bodies and her work with smaller combos.

At the end of 1999 she released her third album. Entitled Let Yourself Go, it's a collection of songs popularised by Fred Astaire in many of his musicals. Here, she is accompanied by her Quintet of husband Jim Tomlinson on tenor and alto saxophones and clarinet, guitarist Colin Oxley, David Newton at the piano, bassist Simon Thorpe and drumer Steve Brown.

In the book 'Astaire - His Friends Talk', actor Jack Lemmon recounts the story of how he was working with Astaire on two-hour tribute to The Gershwins. Jack asked Fred what it felt like to have George and Ira write so many songs just for him. Astaire shrugged his shoulders and remarked "Berlin write more". And that's what you get with this selection: the output from the best American songwriters of the 20th century.

The chosen tunes range from Roberta in the early 30's (Jerome Kern's I Won't Dance) through to I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan and By Myself, the Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz songs from 1952's The Band Wagon. In between, there's plenty from Astaire's Ginger period. They Can't Take That Away From Me, They All Laughed and the title song from the Gershwins Shall We Dance, another Kern/Fields collaboration A Fine Romance, from Swing Time, and I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket, which conjures up images of the comedy dance routine in Follow The Fleet.

The arrangements are by Kent and Tomlinson, and really bring out the classic nature of the songs. Going back a few decades, Ella Fitzgerald's career received a boost when she covered the Cole Porter songbook. This CD not only follows in the footsteps of that great tradition, but also stands as the most fitting tribute to Astaire in his centenary year.

Produced by Candid Productions www.candidrecords.com

Catalogue number: CCD 79764

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Malcolm Laycock presents: Swingdance Volume 3

More good news for swing dancers, as Flyright Records release the third in a series of remastered classics that have been selected and scrubbed up a treat by radio broadcaster Malcolm Laycock. Once again, the informative sleeve notes give you the year of original release, as well as the length of the track and the beats per minute. There's also a transcript of part of the interview with Frank Manning broadcast last year. The songs range from 1935 (Claude Hopkins' Truckin') to the 1947 version of Li'l Dog by Buddy Johnson, and from gentle 106 bpm lilting pace of Louis Jordan's Buzz Me, to the speed swing of Teddy Powell's 222 bpm 4.15 Jump.

For those concerned that the quality of the material might be weakening after two previous efforts: worry not. The disc is packed with top artists, with a mixture of their better-known tunes (The Duke Ellington Orchestra performing a wonderfully bouncy Harlem Airshaft) to the extremely pleasant surprises (Jumpin' At The Savoy by Al Cooper and his Savoy Sultans). Cab Calloway, Gene Krupa, Fats Waller and Andy Kirk's Clouds Of Joy are amongst the other familiar names contributing their dance floor classics.

The technical process employed to 'clean up' the tracks is particularly successful on Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop, when Tex Beneke's saxophone can be heard soaring over the rhythm, and Crazy Rhythm, as the trumpet of Harry James sounds crisper than ever. A more difficult task is to improve the vocal tracks, which are mixed in with the rest of the backing, and difficult to separate. Peggy Lee and Cab Calloway both still sound somewhat muffled, the former with Benny Goodman on Why Don't You Do Right, while Cab smooches his way through A Bee Gezindt.

Other stand-out tracks? Claude Hopkins delivers a clean and jumpy Truckin', and it's always a delight to hear the angelic voice of Helen Humes delivering And The Angels Sing, backed by The Count Basie Orchestra. Overall, another CD you can put on the player and not worry about an undanceable track clearing the floor. Well, not until Teddy Powell swings in, and then it's time for a frantic Shim Sham. On the subject of dance routines, you'll be hard pushed to find a peppier version of Flying Home to play than the one performed here by Will Bradley and Ray McKinley when you do The Big Apple around your front room.

The Swingdance series is a labour of love for Laycock, and requires your support in order to convince Flyright to continue with the project. Like the other two releases, Swingdance III is 100% danceable and deserves a place in your collection.

Produced by: Flyright Records

Catalogue number: SDCD2262-2

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Louis Prima: Capitol Collectors Series

A couple of years ago, there was a marketing campaign for a compilation CD by Crowded House (a contemporary beat combo). The strapline read: "You know more Crowded House songs than you think". The same can be said of vocal giant Louis Prima, and this 26-track collection is proof.

Prima is perhaps best known for singing "I Wanna Be Like You" from Disney's film The Jungle Book. Think a little harder and you'll probably remember hearing that he wrote Sing, Sing Sing. Oh yes, the tune from the Gap advert covered by Brian Setzer, Jump Jive an' Wail - that's one of his. Wait - wasn't that opening track covered by that long-haired ex-singer from Van Halen? Doesn't Ray Gelato cover Angelina-Zooma Zooma? And then there's that song that starts like a tango tune and then speeds up? You know - Buona Sera? Yup, another Prima prime cut.

And all of those are sparking off light bulbs before you get to the tunes sung with his partner Keely Smith, like Baby, Won't You Please Come Home, The Lip and Hey Boy! Hey Girl! Add to this classics such as That Old Black Magic, Pennies From Heaven and I've Got You Under My Skin, and you begin to realise that this is a compilation that you've always had in your head, if not in your CD collection.

Special mention must be made of the packaging. The liner notes by Scott Shea are extremely comprehensive, covering his life and career, from his birth in December 1910 to the day he died in August 1978. There are also some great reprints of album covers and publicity photographs.

With some CDs, you take a chance on some duff tracks; not here - even the ones new to you are a delight. All the tracks have a bright and airy sound to them, having been digitally remastered from the original mono and three-track (!) master session tapes. There's even a previously unreleased song, The Music Goes 'Round And 'Round, to entice existing fans to add this one to their collection. If you have enjoyed dancing to the occasional Prima track, this is the ideal one-stop shop for all things Louis.

Produced by: Capitol Records

Contact number: CDP 7 94072 2

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King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys
Smack Dab In The Middle

So who doesn't know this lot then? With approaching 2,500 performances in the last ten or so years, this is the band that WON'T record Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Released at the end of January 1999, the sixth KP and the BBs CD shows the band doing what they do best: swinging through a bunch of medium to up-tempo jump-jive-blues songs.

Like any great team, the changes in personnel have not affected the overall sound: the rhythm unit of Bam-Bam Beresford (drums), Slap Happy (double bass), Ivory Dan McCormack (piano/Hammond) and Bullmoose K Shirley (guitar) lay down some solid foundations over which Julian Webster-Greaves (tenor sax), P. Popps Martin (alto/baritone saxes), Big Mally Baxter (trumpet) and of course The Man Himself KP (tenor sax) add that familiar Pleasure brass sound. This release benefits from the storming sax sound of Big Mart Winning, who has now left the band, but not before contributing to four tracks here.

So can you dance to it? Of course! There are 19 tracks to get your head and feet around, a good mixture of classics and originals written by King Pleasure. The opening track Girl With The Gold Dress On sets the scene in terms of tone and tempo: not frantic, and with plenty of horns. For slow, hot 'n' steamy blues, the band's version of Sam Hopkins' Ain't It Lonesome is unbeatable: Baxter's muted trumpet takes the honours for setting the mood here, but the rest of the brass provide sterling support. Other familiar tunes are Johnny Taylor's Soft Pillow and Motown founder Berry Gordy's I'll Be Satisfied. Special mention for the instrumental Mush Mouth which will satisfy the most ardent swing dancers yearning for something fast and brassy.

King Pleasure's own opener, Happy As A Fella Can Be, Can't Get Enough Of Your Stuff, Red Headed Woman and other self-penned tracks sit comfortably with the cover versions here. Favourites from the live set include Fat Sam From Birmingham and Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash, but really, the more their gigs you've been to, the more of these you will recognise.

One gripe has to be the horribly distasteful cover, by one Mark Skirving. King Pleasure should really have a word with that guy and tell him to get his head straight! With their increased media profile recently (Lottery advertisements, Teletubbies, London South East), KP&BBs are more popular than ever. If you can't get to their gigs, this collection will bring their gigs to you. Take a stroll along Pleasure Beach!

© 1999 Andrew Winton

Artist: King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys
Title: Smack Dab In The Middle
Label: Bear
Catalogue Number: CD42
Contact No: 0121 454 7020
E-mail: bigbearmusic@compuserve.com

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Various Artists - Swing This, Baby!

From The United States come two compilations, the sound of the New Swing Generation. Assembled by the folks at Slimstyle Records and the US Swing Time Magazine (no relation), these two offerings present a good range of the bands currently tearing up swing dance scene Stateside.

The first disc opens with two home runs: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are now known worldwide from their Superbowl appearance, and the opening brass phrase on their Jumpin' Jack sets the tone for (almost) the whole set: fast and brassy. Followed by those Zoot Suit Rioters The Cherry Poppin' Daddies with Ding Dong Daddy Of The D-Car Line (don't worry - the tune's snappier than the title), you expect the mood to change to something more mellow. Forget it. Next up, Blue Plate Special show exactly why it's swing, Jim, but not as we know it. Their Night Out is not swing, or even jump-jive: it's heads-down-no-nonsense rock 'n' roll, with added saxes. So it's no surprise to then hear The Brian Setzer Orchestra wafting from the speakers with (Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone.

Other familiar names to be found here include The Royal Crown Revue, The New Morty Show, Killer Diller favourites The Flying Neutrinos and the UK's own The Big Six with We The Boys Will Rock Ya. It's all pretty much uptempo rock/jive, but there is an absolute diamond in the dust here: The Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra contribute Bill's Bounce and for true swing music fans it's worth the price of admission on it's own. This tune swings the socks off everything else in sight, with a lightness of touch, hardness of drive and changes in mood that could teach most of the other bands here a few things.

© 1999 Andrew Winton

Artist: Various
Title: Swing This, Baby!
Label: Slimstyle/Beyond (distributed by BMG)
Catalogue Number: BYJC-78000-2
Contact Address: 3400 E. Speedway Suite 118-282 Tucson, AZ 85716 USA

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Various Artists - Swing This, Baby! II

Swing This, Baby! II is the second installment on your whistle-stop tour of contemporary US swing dance bands. The formula is pretty much the same as the first release, with 15 bands supplying a track each to the listing. There are a couple of repeat treats: Blue Plate Special this time ask you to Work That Skirt and The New Morty Show are back with In The Groove.

The difference here is that while some of the tracks may sound similar, the names of the bands are fabulous. The Atomic Fireballs, Stray Cats-soundalikes The Cigar Store Indians, The Acme Swing Company, new-wave lyricists Hipster Daddy-O And the Handgrenades, and the magnificently-monikered The Dino Martinis cannot help but put a smile on your face. Once again, there is a lone UK representative, this time The Ray Gelato Giants delivering the Gelato/Tomasso-penned Givin'Up Givin' Up. Ray's Prima-style vocals are to the fore, and together with a swinging, unfussy arrangement make this one of the standout tracks on the disc. Compare this to The Jet Set Six, whose Perpetual Bachelor starts with a Sing Sing Sing-style drum break, before ending up more as a retread of The Cherry Poppin' Daddies with added fuzzbox guitar solo. Two tracks later, the formula is repeated by Three Cent Stomp, this time taken at breakneck speed.

Unless you know these bands already, you won't recognise the tunes because they are usually self-penned. A notable exception is the first track, Louis Prima's ubiquitous Jump, Jive An' Wail, performed here by The Crescent City Maulers. Not to be confused with Dr. Zoot's version of their own song Jump, Jive And Shake, a pleasant mid-tempo number with plenty of brass and Spin Doctors-style vocal harmonies.

Don't be mislead by this 'New Swing' tag: these bands are not the musical descendants of Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb or Jimmie Lunceford. Their ancestory could be traced no further back than Louis Jordan, with the roots of what you hear lying more in boogie-woogie and jump-jive than the big band swing era of the 30's and 40's. But don't be put off by it either: you can dance to it, and certainly have a good time. At the end of the evening, that's what it's all about.

©1999 Andrew Winton

Artist: Various
Title: Swing This, Baby! II
Catalogue No: 63985-78015-2 Slimstyle/Beyond (distributed by BMG)
Contact: Slimstyle Records, 3400 E. Speedway Suite 118-282 Tucson AZ 85716 USA

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