Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Big Easy – “The Big Easy” album review

Amongst a certain cohort of music aficionados there is an interest in a genre known as “electro swing”. Essentially this incorporates the rhythms and atmosphere of early swing giants and fuses them together with contemporary beats to produce, in many cases, an exhilarating and electrifying sound.  The Big Easy, from Leeds, have gone straight back to the early swing sound of Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima and given it a modern yet authentic make over. On this recording the band incorporates Jon Scully on trumpet and vocals, Troy Faid on guitar and vocals, Chris Lloyd on piano, Thomas Maddison on double bass and Laurence Marshall on drums. The mood from the very outset on “It’s the Rhythm in Me” is one of a group of musicians coming together, playing the music they love, and drawing the listener into their world with enthusiasm. Arguably the mood softens on such eternal jewels as “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance”, but the overall mood is one of unbridled joy and love for the music. “St Louis Blues” is given a laid-back tango feel that helps to infuse new life into a well-known tune.
The production is tight and crisp and allows each player individual voices room to be heard. The soloing is virtuosic without appearing self indulgent, and augments rather than detracts from the melodies. Many could argue that the production is almost too sterile for the type of music that is showcased here, but that is irrelevant if the listener fully contextualises these pieces.  Nina Simone’s  “My Baby Just Cares for Me” is another tune that has been covered and reinterpreted in many ways on numerous occasions, but somehow The Big Easy have given it a prevailing flavour whilst remaining faithful to the original mood. Lovers of popular music who had their interest in swing music piqued by the recordings of Joe Jackson and the like, would be well advised to broaden their acquaintance with The Big Easy. In many ways, without the contemporary vocal, the passive listener would be hard pressed to date this recording at all.
Swing music has infiltrated many peoples lives, whether they like it or not, for many years in films, television and modern sampling techniques, so the music here should not be too unfamiliar to most. As advertised on their website, The Big Easy are available to play pubs, clubs, private parties and weddings. On hearing this release the listener can appreciate how the band can give any event a dose of infectious and enthusiastic playing which not only acknowledges their love of swing, but also brings it to a twenty first century audience in a setting that they can fully understand.  And with a live setlist that can incorporate the music of Dr John, Dusty Springfield, Van Morrison, The Beatles and Mae West, there is a realisation that the musicianship here does not end with swing, but encompasses influences satisfyingly far-reaching. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Preview René Marie – 23rd April 2014 Howard Assembly Rooms Leeds

For fans of vocal jazz this has to be a concert ‘not to be missed’, her recent album ‘I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt)’ is her 10th, and was selected #4 Top Jazz Vocal Release of 2013 by NPR critics poll

London Jazz News said ‘If this is what René Marie can do in a studio, the live experience will be quite unforgettable’ and the lucky people of Leeds can see her live in Leeds as one of only two UK dates this year at the Howard Assembly Rooms on 23rd April.

I have known about Rene Marie for a few years now as she features alongside the some of the best current American Jazz singers, in the US charts and internationally.  I have my tickets booked and hope to see you there.

The below is from her press release:

René shares more about her inspiration for the project.
‘Eartha Kitt is one of America’s strongest iconic figures. She was an inspiring artist, a strong woman and an essential activist in different ways. She was homeless when she first moved to New York City yet became a star. She was a sensual and powerful woman in a man’s world at a time when most women were in the background, not front and centre. She was a black actress in Hollywood at a time when most black actors were given subservient roles yet here she was – Catwoman.  She challenged President Johnson on the Vietnam War and paid a price for her outspokenness. She unabashedly shared her sensual self and her fierce self and was just herself – simply Eartha. That alone, I have learned, can be the most radical act, especially if you are a woman. As Eartha states in one of her famous ‘Kittisms’: The price you pay for being yourself is worth it.’

René too is unabashedly herself, winning many fans for her audaciousness but also receiving strong criticism.  Her well-known medley of “Strange Fruit” and “Dixie” wowed many but also stirred the pot on America’s history of slavery and Southern race relations. Her choice to sing the black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (set to the melody of the “Star Spangled Banner”) when the Mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper asked René – one of Denver’s high profile resident artists at the time – to open the State of the City address in 2008 spurred a significant backlash, right wing criticism and even death threats.

Yet René stood strong. Her daring makes her one of America’s most interesting and compelling artists. So do her influences. Her style incorporates a distinctly American mélange of jazz, soul, blues, folk and gospel and an innate theatrical ability to interpret a song deeply and live its truth. An actress as well as a vocalist, René starred Off-Broadway in New York City October 12-13 and 18 and 20, 2013, as part of the All for One Theatre Festival at the Cherry Lane Theatre in a one-woman play she wrote. In typical fashion, she raised eyebrows just with the title itself – “Slut Energy Theory – U’Dean.” The meaning becomes clear and intensely significant as the audience – and critics alike – find themselves transformed by her play about U’Dean, a woman on a painful yet sometimes funny journey from sexual abuse to self-esteem.

René also is a woman of great strength and humour who walked a similar journey. Married at 18, a mother of two by 23 and a Jehovah’s Witness, she only occasionally sang. When her husband of 23 years issued an ultimatum to stop singing or leave, she chose music over the turbulent marriage and self-released her debut Renaissance in 1998 and toured as Ella Fitzgerald in a regional play. She began experiencing a whirlwind of success rarely seen in the jazz world, winning over critics; receiving awards such as the Best International Jazz Vocal CD (besting Cassandra Wilson and Joni Mitchell) by France’s Academie Du Jazz; gracing the Billboard charts multiple times; and becoming a headliner at major international festivals. A gifted songwriter, her previous Motéma release, Black Lace Freudian Slip, features blues-heavy originals. Her label debut, Voice of My Beautiful Country, is an ambitious celebration of Americana and a striking display of her incredible ability to forge connections between songs most would never think to merge.

For René Marie, success means shining attention on important issues in America and on bold artists like Eartha Kitt who helped change America’s landscape for the better. René has become one of those bold artists. It’s hard to believe it all started after she turned 40.

For Tickets

For More about René Marie

Or Check her You Tube channel: