Echoes of Swing – Winter Days at Schloss Elmau
(ACT 9105-2 CD Review by Peter Vacher)
I’ve enjoyed a number of this long-established international quartet’s previous ACT releases. Their neat re-runs of swing tunes have a freshness that is very inviting. This time they have embarked on a more demanding project, augmented by the even-toned US vocalist Rebecca Kilgore, plus guitar and drums on some tracks, and focused on a programme of songs and poetry settings with a wintry theme. It’s the location, a picture-book castle in snow-bound Germany and the time of year that have concentrated minds here and very worthwhile it all is.
Hoagy Carmichael’s quite tricky Winter Moon is a relaxed affair, each principal soloing before Kilgore enters, poised and momentarily reminiscent of the sublime Maxine Sullivan, Hopkins’ arrangement quite spare. Poet Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is set to music by pianist and MD Bernd Lhotzky and is jauntier, Kilgore’s lovely clarity a key factor in its success. The nicely devised voicing of trumpet and alto over an ostinato piano figure complements the poem’s quality. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm follows, underlining the album’s pleasing mix of the familiar with the less obvious, as in its settings of Emily Bronte’s The Night Is Darkening Around Me and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 97, the latter with guitar as its sole accompaniment. Irving Berlin’s rarely-heard Snow is lively before the quiet calm of Jobim’s bossa Looks Like December, Kilgore also contributing a pair of pleasing original songs, too.
Each of these thirteen pieces is like a polished jewel, swinging when required, reflective otherwise, perky when appropriate. There’s a kind of care and attention to detail that makes me think of the much-lauded John Kirby Sextet’s concern for shapely creativity. Each player solos well, expatriate Englishman Colin T. Dawson on trumpet and flugelhorn, doubtless influenced by swing heroes like Shavers or Eldridge, always pertinent. I’ve appreciated Kilgore’s vocals in the past without ever quite going overboard about her talents; here, though, she is triumphant, handling the differing demands of each song with total aplomb. She chimes with the sentiments of each selection while clearly relishing the musicianship of her fellow musicians. Nothing is over-long or prolix; the dynamics are pleasing, the outcomes controlled and rewarding. As the blurb says, ‘Echoes of Swing are respectful of tradition but have a verve and an energy that make them completely new’. Quite so.
Echoes of Swing: Colin T. Dawson [t, fgh]; Chris Hopkins [as]; Bernd Lhotzky [p, MD]; Oliver Mewes [d], plus guests Rebecca Kilgore [v]; Rolf Marx [g]; Henning Galling [b].