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David Berger & The Sultans of Swing at Birdland

Budd Kopman By

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David Berger & The Sultans of Swing at Birdland
Birdland
New York, NY
September 25, 2007

David Berger and his Sultans of Swing have a regular Tuesday gig at Birdland and recently have included vocalist Champian Fulton for some tunes in the set.

Berger talked a bit about the music, and made the point that this band is not trying to recreate an historic style, but rather that this is the music he and the band members love—all too clearly evidenced by the body language and playing of every member of the band.

What is it about the music of the Swing Era and hence this band's music that is so appealing? The most obvious component is the rhythms used. Swing can vary so much that it is hard to define — you just know it when you hear it, and Berger is a master of that delicious change from being in 2 to being in 4. He also has the feeling in his bones for just the right tempo — not too fast and not too slow — just right. The rhythms automatically do two things: get you moving and bring on a smile.

The rhythm section of piano, bass and drums was spot on, the members knowing exactly what they were doing. While different tunes highlighted each of a three, as a team, they are the engine of the band and push it with that delicate drive that, for most of us, defines Swing.

Berger is an acknowledged authority on Duke Ellington and the Swing Era, and his arrangements, while using every familiar riff and technique of the big bands, do not copy any particular band's style. Those familiar with Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter or even Glenn Miller (to name a few) will recognize the sound of closely-voiced saxophones, incisive trumpet interjections, and a rich trombone choir.

More than anything else, the music is joyous and celebrates being alive. Far from being simplistic, it is quite sophisticated — both in its intricacy and its worldly-wise evocation of a bygone era while imparting a sense of immediacy and well-being that is hard to find elsewhere.

Champian Fulton did three tunes from her (and Berger's) new record Champian and only further cemented how deeply she feels this music, despite being only in her twenties. Her genuine love of the style assured that the words really meant something and communicated directly with the audience.

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