Where, I asked my wife, do you think the Boston Promenade Big Band might be from? “Massachusetts?” she replied. A splendid guess, but some few miles off the mark. Boston Promenade, which was established in 1964, is, believe it or not, based in Helsinki, Finland. Walking the Big Duck,
released in 1997, is the band’s fourth album; the other disc, History: 64–99
, is, as its title implies, an overview of the band’s recordings from 1974 to the present (with one previously unreleased track, “Jump in My Car”). Five of the selections on History
are from Big Duck,
which we shall appraise first. The first thing to note is that the band itself is quite good; the second is that the music is invariably swing–, rock– or fusion–oriented, with vocals on all but one track (James and David Taylor’s “JTQ Theme”). Among the more familiar songs (at least to American listeners) are Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Michael Jackson’s “Blame It on the Boogie,” Roger Murrah/Keith Stegall’s “We’re in This Love Together,” Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed and Delivered, I’m Yours,” and — we’re not kidding — Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (with a remarkably “straight” arrangement enhancing Sanni Orasmaa’s vocal). “Let’s Stay Together,” with vocal by Ninni Poijärvi, opens like an old 78–rpm record, complete with scratchy surface, before moving in mid–stream to its more contemporary sound. The finale, “In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down,” was arranged by Frank Mantooth. That one is reprised on History,
as are “Big Duck’s Walk,” “We’re in This Together,” “JTQ Theme“ and “Let’s Stay Together.” The band bows on its various albums to Aretha Franklin (“Natural Woman”), Tom Jones (“It’s Not Unusual”) and Judy Garland (“Over the Rainbow”), among others. “Mellow Saxophone,” “It’s Not Unusual” and “Caught a Touch of Your Love,” recorded this year, document Boston Promenade’s move away from rock and toward “nouveau swing.” Actually, there’s more of that from On the Rocks
(recorded in 1990), notably “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,“ “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Boston Shaker,” along with a rare (and well–done) ballad, “Lately.” The Garland classic comes from 1984’s album Reaching for the Rainbow,
sung by an all–male vocal group, “Boston Cake” and the Glenn Miller favorite, “Little Brown Jug” (with lyrics). Miller’s familiar theme, “Moonlight Serenade,” and a swing arrangement of the standard “My Blue Heaven” are from 1974–75’s Janitsaarijatsin nousu ja uho,
and the anthology closes with the unissued rocker, “Jump in My Car” (which mimics the Beatles and other British groups of the late ’50s–early ’60s). For them that likes this kind of music, Boston Promenade plays (and sings) it reasonably well. But finding any of its albums can be a formidable undertaking. If you’re interested, try the contact address given below.
Track listing: History — (Every Time I Hear That) Mellow Saxophone; Natural Woman; It’s Not Unusual; Caught a Touch of Your Love; In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down); We’re in This Love Together; Big Duck’s Walk; JTQ Theme; Let’s Stay Together; Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens; Lately; Rattlesnake Shake; Boston Shaker; When a Man Loves a Woman; Over the Rainbow; Boston Cake; Little Brown Jug; Moonlight Serenade; My Blue Heaven; Jump Into My Car (74:48). Walking the Big Duck — Prologue: Going Down Under; Big Duck’s Walk; Play That Funky Music; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; We Are Family; JTQ Theme; Let’s Stay Together; Blame It on the Boogie; We’re in This Love Together; Signed, Sealed and Delivered, I’m Yours; Ain’t Nobody; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down). (53:35).