Monday, November 15, 2010

This Is Vintage Now Review

This Is Vintage Now is an ambitious music project headed by David Gasten which in David's own words tries to "bring older styles to the current time in a way that connects with current audiences but is still non-obtrusive." Sounds good to me! I for one embrace looking to the past to create the future and music is such a living creature that it should be constantly revisited and refreshed.

According to their website, the objective of their first CD is to "showcase 'bicultural' Vintage-style artists that bring the sounds of the 1940's-1960's to today without compromising the original sound." Do they deliver? The answer is both yes and no and , of course, is complicated and based on personal preference as music usually is.

Beverly Kenney
The CD starts strong with a jazz track from Beverly Kenney "Tea for Two," which was actually recorded in 1955. Accompanied only by piano, Kenney's voice has a fragility on par with fellow 50s vocalist Helen Merrill, with a shot of Sheila Jordan and Sarah Vaughn thrown in. I agree completely that she is obscure enough to be "rediscovered" for this compilation, yet this track sets a high standard for the rest of the album as well.

On track 2 "Get On Up and Boogie", Big Jay McNeely immediately catches the listener with his question "Are you ready for some Boogie Woogie?!?" and jumps into a high energy audio assault of vocals, stride piano, guitar, bass, drums, conga drums and a pair of saxes. Like Kenney, McNeely has been making music for quite some time and helps to create the base on which the other tunes on the CD will be compared to, conscious or not. The contrast of this jump blues tune against the first really grabbed me and I started to look forward to the next tune.

The next song "Just One Dance" by Caro Emerald did not let me down and became my favorite on the compilation. The mix of jazz, torch song, and big band with dance pop is to me the essence of what This Is Vintage Now should be, a marriage of old and new in a way that supports each other. The short instrumental sax and piano jazz samples are perfectly blended behind a catchy vocal line to almost create a call and answer within the verse. The addition of a horn section over a pop band harkens back to Joe Jackson's successful crossover album Steppin' Out, however this tune is much more dance oriented.

Ilana Charnelle
At this point I am totally with this CD. Unfortunately, this is also where things start to falter. The next two songs, "Piece" by Ilana Charnelle and "Tears On My Pillow" by The Pharohs, are troublesome for various reasons. Ilana Charnelle is a strong, expressive singer, similar to Fiona Apple, and the song "Piece" is noteworthy with compelling lyrics, however it is awkward in the context of this particular compilation. It is not the sparseness of the instrumentation, voice and piano, because the first song on the CD is the same. It is more that the song has too much of an indie feel to it compared to the other songs. This is felt mostly in the melody line in the verse which tends to linger around the same note. The bridge section is closer to a "vintage" sound in that the melody and lyrics are on equal footing much more like a Tin Pan Alley song, however the bridge is only 16 bars out of essentially a 48 bar song. While I would agree that Charnelle's song is channeling a Janis Ian sound, this is really the only song on this CD to cover this type of genre and it really sticks out.

The Pharohs song is a perfectly acceptable cover of "Tears On My Pillow" however there are some pitching issues in the vocals and sound quality issues with the recording. There is also nothing really "modern" with this rendition that leads me to believe that it will be pulling in a new audience beyond those who already appreciate Doo-wop.

Moving on, "Similau" by The Waitiki 7 is nice blend of lounge, exotica and bossa jazz, with a little bit of gypsy thrown in. This tunes definitely makes me think of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters album in that it is fleshing out a jazz idiom with native flavor. The juxtaposition of vibes, flute and violin in the different sections of the tune outline each flavor and provide quite a bit of texture in a fairly short song (3:22) for this genre. I personally would have liked the quicker middle section to have been longer to allow the soloists to explore more.

David Gasten
CD producer Gasten's own band David Gasten & the City Kids is next with "The Deacon Don't Like It." Like the Caro Emerald tune above this song holds firmly to the objective of the This Is Vintage Now with a mixture of swing, jump blues and whiskey- think Tom Waits meets the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. The use of a shout chorus and a guitar that fills in for the absence of a horn section is effective, giving the song a firm swing feel to it. There is no solo section in this tune which is unusual, however the song does not drag on due to the switch in underlying tempo textures in each section of the 16 bar blues.

The next tune "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is another track from the 50s by  vocalist Carole Creveling. Creveling is another talented but overlooked jazz singer that has a fluid, sing-songy sound similar to a younger Anita O'Day or even Rosemary Clooney ala "Come On A My House." She is backed by a combo of piano, bass and drums and has a sound typical of most female jazz vocalists at that time. What is atypical is that she was 18 when she recorded the album that the track comes from, according to an interview.

Next in line is an interesting tune by Blake Jones & the Trike Shop called "If Hawthorne Were Foggy." The title itself is enough to warrant a listen, but the actual song is a delightful mix of ethereal wordless vocals, expressive surf guitar, talkative bass and bouts of glockenspiel. It's as if Brian Wilson and Duane Eddy decided to cover a Sean Lennon song at a circus. The lack of percussion in this song just adds to the amorphous feeling of floating through a dream, however the echo on the guitar adds a sinister sense of excitement as you half expect a zombie clown (courtesy of the glock). I love it and fits perfectly within the theme of this CD.

The Necro-Tonz
The final song on the compilation is“Fare Thee Well (And Go To Hell)” by The Necro-Tonz. Billed as Halloween jazz/swing, the group is a combo with vocals and sax that teeters on the brink of a rockabilly shuffle sound. There is something restrained about this particular recording that I can't quite place my finger on. It's as if everyone but the sax player is holding back or is fatigued from a day of recording. I keep expecting more as the song goes on and it never quite gets there. I would have especially liked to have heard more from the vocalist who has a powerful and expressive voice, perhaps some scatting. Overall this tune fits within the objective of the compilation yet is unremarkable in defining a new vintage sound in and of itself.

As I mentioned, the project is very ambitious as there are an incredible amount of genres just within the compilation's chosen eras of the 40s-60s, opening the door to thrill or disappoint listeners. Overall I was pleased with This Is Vintage Now and I would recommend it to anyone that appreciates a wide range of historical music genres, with a special affinity for swing and jazz.

This Is Vintage Now
Coming soon!
For more information contact David Gasten at DavidGasten at yahoo dot com 

1 comment:

Andrew Godfrey said...

Beverly Kenney proves that less is better sometimes as she sings Tea For Two with only a piano backing her up. She proves that you don't have to have lush orchestrations for a song to sound good.

She has a great voice for 40's and 50's music before rock and roll caught on in the middle 50's.

Great website that has a bright future.