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Johnny Angel (I’m not sure that’s his given name) wrote to ask if I would review his album, and as I almost never turn aside a request from a musician, I said yes. Johnny, a New Yorker, is a vocalist, one of two on the date. The other is a Texan, Julia LaShae, also known as “the red-headed canary.” Johnny sings on five of the thirteen selections, Julia on three, and they trade one-liners on Louis Prima’s “Absent-Minded Lover.” The other tracks are instrumentals, with urbane monologue on the intro (“Club Deuce/New Orleans”) and penultimate track (“Venus of Avenue D/Melancholy Serenade”) by “Manny B. Medici” (a.k.a. Peter Lupini).
The setting, as described by Lupini and “announcer” Steve “Chip” Galle, is a New Orleans “nightclub,” Club Deuce (“a place for the nocturnal elements to roost“), at which Johnny and his Swingin’ Demons (a thirteen-piece ensemble) are “appearing.” The music is a blend of New Orleans trad, American pop and neo-swing that accommodates four original songs by Angel and others by Lupini, Prima, Hot Lips Page (“Uncle in Harlem“), the Gershwins (“A Foggy Day”), Richard Adler/Jerry Ross (it‘s hard to believe they wrote “No Soap Blues“), Joe Liggins, Paulie Gerrard, Jackie Gleason (“Melancholy Serenade”) and even Walter Schumann (the theme from Dragnet, which opens the floor show). I can’t say if the “Hoggy Carmichael” listed as composer of “New Orleans” is actually “Hoagy” or if that’s another gag.
Before going further, a bit of housecleaning, lest there be some confusion about the playing order, which, as listed in the booklet, is incorrect. “Saturday Night Saloon,” listed as Track 7, is actually 11, following “Write Me One Sweet Letter,” which appears after “Wing It,” not before as listed in the booklet. “No Soap Blues” and “A Foggy Day” are tracks 7 and 8, not 8 and 9. I hope that clears things up.
The music is typical neo-swing, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with occasional humor, crisp drum work by David Hansen and brief solos by saxophonists Jerry Jumonville, Steve Miller and Ryan Burrage, trumpeter Larry Foyen, clarinetist Tim Laughlin, pianist Jim Maxwell, guitarist Chip Wilson and guest guitarist Kid Royale (on “Red Lipstick”). Johnny and Julia are decent vocalists, but no more than that, and Julia is sometimes undermined by excessive reverb, especially on “One Sweet Letter.”
For fans of the swing revival, a pretty good look at what’s going down in the Crescent City.
Track Listing: Club Deuce / New Orleans; Dragnet; Uncle in Harlem; Runaway Freight; Red Lipstick; Absent-Minded Lover; No Soap Blues; A Foggy Day; Wing It; Write Me One Sweet Letter; Saturday Night Saloon; Venus of Avenue D / Melancholy Serenade; Club Deuce / New Orleans. 47:12.
Personnel: Johnny Angel, leader, vocals; Julia LaShae, vocals; Kevin Clark, Larry Foyen, Ruel Pate, trumpet; Jeff Albert, Chris Munch, trombone; Ryan Burrage, alto, tenor, baritone sax; Jerry Jumonville, Steve Miller, tenor sax; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Jim Maxwell, piano; Chip Wilson, guitar; Tim Paco, bass; David Hansen, drums, tympani; Peter Lupini, spoken word; Warren Johnson, tap dancer; Steve
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.