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Various Artists: Swingin' Jazz for Hipsters Vol. 1

Robert Spencer By

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That most prolific of jazzmen, Mr. Various Artists, is back again from Concord in a slick postmodern Fifties retro package crafted to appeal to folks who would never admit that they like "Feelin' Groovy," but groove to it all the same underneath their gentle sneer. Inside is a program heavy with pop tunes latter-day jazzed: "The Candy Man," "Isn't She Lovely," "The 59th Street Bridge Song" in the flesh-plus crossover things like Donald Fagen's "Walk Between the Raindrops" (presented here without the definite article) and "The Girl from Ipanema." On hand are Ray Brown ("Candy Man"), Captain Jack McDuff ("Goin' Out of My Head"), Mel Tormé ("Walk Between Raindrops"), Stephane Grappelli ("Isn't She Lovely"), Hendrik Meurkens ("Slidin'"), The Stefan Scaggiari Trio ("Honeysuckle Rose"), Tania Maria ("I Can Do It"), the one and only Ruby Braff ("Days of Wine and Roses"), the Ron Escheté Trio ("Sleepwalk"), Ernestine Anderson (Simon's "Gar-funk" as noted above), Howard Roberts ("Lady Wants to Know") and the Charlie Byrd Trio with Ken Peplowski ("Ipanema").

All this seems designed to draw new moths to the flame. Types who, deep down, aren't as cynical as they think they ought to be. Will it work? Well, Grappelli's late lamented violin is as piquantly lyrical as usual. Mel Tormé sounds a trifle arch. Meurkens is breezy and dispassionate — but thoroughly pleasant — on his harmonica workout. One Mr. Warren Luening is heard briefly but to powerful effect on trumpet behind Mel. Sam Most's flute on "The Candy Man," on the other hand, seems a bit breathy. "Honeysuckle Rose" is thoroughly competent. "I Can Do It" is from a release called Outrageous, and has a loosey-goosey comic feel recalling that funny little song from the Sixties, "Ma-Na-Ma-Na." (Or is that all one word?) One thing you can certainly do is dance to it.

Ruby Braff's cornet darts playfully around the lush tenor of Scott Hamilton. And you also get Dave McKenna on piano, making "Days of Wine and Roses" a highlight of this disc — unless you are more entranced by Ernestine Anderson's Paul Simon tribute, which was very hard for me to hear with the original braying so loudly in my mind. Ernestine has a seductive, mellow voice; I'd love to hear her singing a more substantial song. Byrd and Peplowski in "Ipanema" begin with a refreshingly inventive introduction, but dive back into bossa nova land soon enough. Still, both play with their customary relaxed verve.

I don't know. The liners define hipster for me, but I'm not sure anyone nowadays will know who this disc is for. Some good jazz, some ho hum stuff. Good background mix for parties.


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