Alex Mendham And his Orchestra: Whistling In The Dark

Budd Kopman By

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Can a recreation of an original replicate it? The short, quick answer is NO!, especially for popular and improvised music. However, the longer, more thoughtful, answer is YES!, especially this music from the twenties and thirties as performed by leader Alex Mendham and his Orchestra. Whistling In The Dark is that rare creation where everyone involved has taken extraordinary measures, from recording techniques used, to the use of original arrangements to bring to the listener something approaching the feeling of being in a dance hall in 1929 (or so).

Yes, there are issues: the performers and the music in some sense cannot be separated from the time. Jazz, hot or not, was in extraordinary ferment in the years of 1920 through 1940. One can hear it change almost month to month, as players were experimenting, listening to each other and gaining experience in improvising, while at the same time entertaining the paying audience. The usual lens through which this music is discovered is CD reissues of 78 rpm, three-minute-per-side recordings, and, to tell the truth, part of the charm is to hear the music through the pops and crackle and the primitive acoustical (and early electrical) recording techniques. There was no post-processing—either the performance was accepted or rejected (and to possibly try again). What you hear is what happened then and there, with any chances taken exposed for everyone to hear.

It is in this feeling that Mendham and his Orchestra (NOT a band!) shine. The use of but two microphones in a live space allow each note to come alive with a thrust and forward momentum that carries their energy directly to the soul. Every player obviously loves this music and has gotten inside of it, to the extent that anyone who didn't live through the period can.

The pace of the show is wonderful, using mostly lesser-known tunes, each of which has its own charms, as do the interspersed announcements. Two achingly beautiful tunes, "Home," and "Lullaby of the Leaves" are standouts and ought to become better known. There are light-hearted tunes like "'Tain't No Sin (To Dance Around in Your Bones)" as well as hot tunes like the driving opener, "Choo Choo," and "Bugle Call Rag." The arrangements give room for improvising here and there, all of which is quite admirable.

Get out from in front of your TV, put on your tuxedo, get into your ballroom gown, place Whistling In The Dark in your player, and fox trot around the floor, smiling all the while.

Track Listing

Choo Choo; Let's Fly Away; Home; Red Lips, Kiss My Blues Away; Treat Me Like A Baby; 'Tain't No Sin (To Dance Around In Your Bones); Bend Down, Sister; Lullaby Of The Leaves; Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On; Keep Your Undershirt On; South American Joe; Our Big Love Scene; Going Hollywood; Little Girl; I'll Never Have To Dream Again; I Heard; Weep No More My Baby; Love Thy Neighbor; Bugle Call Rag; Whistling In The Dark.


Alex Mendham (leader, vocals, alto saxophone); Angus Moncrieff (trumpet); Geoff Bartholomew (trumpet); Chris Lowe (trombone); Nick Charles (soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet); Simon Marsh (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Orpheus Papafilippou (violin); Matt Redman (banjo, guitar); Tevor Wensley (piano); Marc Easener (tuba, string bass); Nicholas D. Ball (percussion); Mark Phillimore (Announcer).

Album information

Title: Whistling In The Dark | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Rivermont Records


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