No doubt my age influences my thinking, but the state of popular music has seemed pretty sad for some time now. The FM dial is rife with soulless beats, fake cowboys, thug rappers and teenage twits. Under the circumstances, I welcomed the swing craze in the late '90s. Sure, the swing thing was retro, but at least it required some degree of training, if not talent. Moreover, it drew a few young people to jazz.
Swing is not nearly so hot today as it was two years ago (Latin pop seems to be the latest fleeting fad) but the best swing bands still have loyal followings. The Swingorillas hail from Salt Lake City, a metropolis not usually known for its trendy music. The Swingorillas are like the other swingers in that they wear the retro clothes and use the '40s jive jargon. But this bunch is more jazz-oriented than most swing outfits, and if you don't mind their perky theatrics, their music is pretty damn good.
The band's nine musicians are purportedly some of Salt Lake City's finest jazzers. After listening to Dick Suave, I have no reason to doubt that claim. Leader Dale Lee is talented saxophonist and arranger. Lead singer Tara Duff has a sexy voice with incredible range, though she's a bit piercing on the high notes. Thanks to some harmonically rich arrangements and bop touches, the Swingorillas have a more open sound than most swing ensembles.
Seven of the 10 tracks here are originals, including "Swing King," an inspired reworking of Edward Grieg's classical composition "Hall of the Mountain King." Other highlights include the mambo-flavored "Nebulosa" and a rocking version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Though Duff sings lead most of the time, four of the men join her for various duets. The vocal exchanges are elaborate, and the horn section is quite impressive.
It's strange, but I've received more independent CDs from Utah than anywhere else in recent months. Dick Suave is far and away the best of the lot.