Lucid Culture


Charming, Cheery Swing Tunes For a New Era of Speakeasies

When Fleur Seule put out their album Standards and Sweet Things – streaming at Spotify – in 2019, little did they know how radical their music would be less than two years later. Obviously, in 2019, nobody regarded this group’s perennially cheery, dancefloor-friendly swing tunes as dangerous. Sure, back in the 1940s, the sound they emulate was considered scandalous in redneck parts of the world, but that was then and this is now. Right?

Wrong. Who knew that dictator Andrew Cuomo would illegalize dancing to jazz in clubs…never mind criminalizing music venues themselves? Until the underground speakeasy circuit which has come to replace the scores of shuttered venues around town becomes more integrated into this city’s nightlife, we have Fleur Seule’s sassy, urbane record to remind us of the fun we had…and the fun we will have. But we’re going to have to work for it. Recent court rulings have overturned Cuomo’s ridiculous lockdown edicts against gyms and houses of worship, but we have to do our part and keep fighting to get back to normal. Let’s not forget that if the lockdowners get their way, indoor concerts in this city will always have to be clandestine.

The album opens with a low-key, scampering take of Taking a Chance on Love, frontwoman Allyson Briggs’ understated optimism over Jason Yeager’a tightly clustering piano, Michael O’Brien’s woody bass and Paul Francis’ shuffling drums, Andy Warren’s muted trumpet raising the temperature here and there. That sets the stage for the rest of the record: most of this is party music, and this is a long album, sixteen tracks.

One of Fleur Seule’s distinguishing features is that they have more of a latin flair than most of the energetic, female-fronted swing acts to come out of this town since the big swing revival a quarter century ago. Their version of Piel Canela has a lowlit simmer, coy overdubbed vocalese and Spanish guitar from Richard Miller. Trumpet and guitar elevate Sabor a Mi above a muted wistfulness, while Briggs plays up the innuendo in Manuelo (even as she mispronounces this hombre’s name). She turns her brittle vibrato up all the way for an aptly summery version of Con Los Ayos Que Me Quedan. And the take of Sweet Happy Life, with its precise, carnavalesque piano, is one of the album’s most individualistic tracks.

Briggs toys with the melody of Almost Like Being In Love, Anita O’Day style. The band plunder the Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald songbook for brisk romps through Them There Eyes and S’Wonderful. Shoo Fly Pie has a wry muted trumpet solo and all the guys joining in on the chorus; the group opt for doing Zou Bisou Bisou as a light-fingered bossa

There are some ballads here too. The most lushly nocturnal track here is Embraceable You. Tenderly is a showcase for glittering piano over a slow triplet shuffle, a lyrical bowed bass solo at the center. Briggs saves one of her most vivid vocals for Misty, then a little later she gets especially tender in an expansive take of La Vie En Rose.

January 1, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shoot Out the Lights With a Rarity From the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic raised some eyebrows last year when they resurrected Richard Strauss’ rarely performed Symphonia Domestica. The composer conducted the world premiere in New York in 1904, to bad reviews, and soon afterward essentially disowned it. And that’s too bad. In typical Strauss fashion, it’s vast and meticulously detailed. As a portrait of marital angst, it’s not the classical music precursor to Richard and Linda Thompson’s iconic Shoot Out the Lights, but there are many similarities. There’s a brave recent live recording with Zubin Mehta leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra, streaming at Spotify, that may make classical fans reconsider this vivid, cinematic, slyly humorous and persistently cynical symphony.

Meant to be performed as a single contiguous movement, right off the bat there’s a uh-oh motif as the husband and wife get into a pre-dinner spat, riffs leaping from far corners of the orchestra. It seems that they’re “doing it for the kid,” as the cliche goes. There’s a proto-Woody Allen sensibility to much of this, a quintessentially cosmopolitan couple in distress. Tenderness and shrill combative swells joust for centerstage as Mehta leads the ensemble upward to an uneasy grandeur, the strings receding with an aching vibrato as gentleness returns: the baby wakes up. And then the fight hits fever pitch.

The wounded theme in the third “movement” is where Mehta and the orchestra hold the music in check, to masterful effect: as the program notes indicate, this is tears before bedtime. Even the poor kid’s dreams afterward are turbulent, as the winds bubbling amid dreamy strings give way to a towering heroic tableau.

From there, there’s the usual Strauss sturm und drang, themes intermingled meticulously, the whole group including the percussion section busting springs if not strings. Is the oboe theme afterward a concession to an afterglow, or an ominous portent? It would seem the latter, the orchestra’s lustre notwithstanding.

The horror movie motives return and lurk beneath the next morning’s bustle as its bellicose proportions grow gargantuan…and all of a sudden the clouds clear, with an almost prayerful violin theme. It’s here where the composer loses the thread: the majestry and triumph of the conclusion comes across as strained and farfetched, no matter how many devious false endings Mehta gives the audience to smile at.

Maybe to sweeten the pot – and bring a few converts into the fold – the album also includes a live performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. For Mehta and the orchestra, there’s plenty of life left in this old warhorse. His direction is finely detailed and on the slow side in the first movement, ingenue versus murderous dictator as their famous, ersatz Middle Eastern cat-and-mouse game gets underway. Violinist Henrik Hochschild’s silken legato is a persistent high point.

Contrasts, suspense and warlike foreshadowing are in welcome hi-definition throughout the second movement, up to a fierce conclusion. Scheherazade’s travelers’ tales and bedtime stories are especially lush and on the muted side in the third movement, pierced by puckish, precise winds. Orchestras love to play this because everyone gets involved, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s harmonies, particularly in the brass and swirling strings of the concluding movement, are so imaginative and colorful. In the end, love conquers all. As it has to, ultimately, for the world to survive. Have you reminded your loved ones not to take the needle of death this year?

January 1, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment