New music from Herräng

When I was in Herräng, I bought a bunch of CDs. Which is a bit ridiculous, as DJing at Herräng taught me I need to ease off on the new music, and remind myself of the old school win in swing era recordings. But I am weak. And I bought these CDs.
I saw them in the lindy hop shop when I was following Black Swans Pond around as she assessed the vintage wear and tried things on. I looked at them when I dropped in my event postcards to pimp Jazz BANG. I touched them and turned them over when I went in to get a couple of postcards.

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I convinced myself it was a bad deal. I could buy all these online, for a fraction of the price. I’d probably pick some up later in the year from the musicians themselves. I might even be given copies to review.
But then BSP and I went back in to touch some nice trousers, and I bought them. I bought all the CDs. Then I took them back to the Igloo’s little garden and uploaded them all into itunes. It wasn’t entirely fair to listen to them all in one block, as they range from burnt-CD-and-photocopied-liner-notes to professionally (and gorgeously) packaged albums by big name New York artists. But that is how jazz works: no album is an island.

So here are my opinions.

1) Baby Soda – Baby Soda Live at Radegast

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Yes, you can buy this on CDBaby for a fraction of the price I paid in the lindy hop shop. Yolo, right? This album was in the LHS because one of the band members, Adrian Cunningham, was playing with Naomi Uyama’s band that week in camp, and had dropped off some CDs to flog in the shop. As musicians do at dance events (and so they should). Paying the added cost sucked for me, but it covered the LHS’s expenses, it plopped a bit of cash directly into the musicians’ pockets, and it fed my GET IT NOW hunger.

2) I picked up the band’s album Jazz Roots Elixir as well

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Both these CDs have gorgeous packaging, so it was worthy buying them in hard copy.
And they are great albums. This is a cracking band. I’ve actually hired Adrian for dance gigs when he’s been in town:

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He’s a Sydney boy who lives in New York now. He did a bloody good job wrangling local musicians for that gig – I’ve never heard those diggers play as well as they did that night. Adrian is a very good band leader.
You’ll have heard him playing on Gordon Webster’s albums, and he’s in Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils.

I’d heard of Baby Soda years ago, when Evan recommended them. But I figured they were just another NOLA style street band, and I just wasn’t interested in any more of that at the time. But they’re not. They are a New York jazz band, influenced by NOLA street jazz, and that’s an important distinction. The NY jazz scene has a more ‘indoors’ feel than the NOLA bands, and the bands’ style is a little less… rough and ready.

Anyways, these albums are great. Really great. I especially like their version of ‘Diga Diga Doo’ on Jazz Roots Elixir, and ‘Glory Glory’ on the same album. I usually play local Sydney band the Finer Cuts’ version of ‘Glory Glory’ when I’m DJing, but this version is pretty darn good. My total favourite song, though, is ‘Palm Court Strut’, from Live at Radegast. It’s not a lindy hopping song, but it is the best dancing song ever. Buy these CDs, they are great.

3) Hot Toddy and his Fully Dressed Po’ Boys (Todd Yannacone, Adam Arrendondo, Chris Johnson, Todd Burdock, Robin Rapuzzi) – self titled

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4) and The Hot Club Of Mazant (Todd Yannacone, Guillaume Corral, Georgi Petrov, Ben Fox) – self titled

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I definitely paid too much for these CDs. But then, I think it’s worth overpaying for music that musicians create, package and sell to you directly – that way you’re saying to them directly, “Hey, doods, keep doing this!”
It’s unfortunate that I bought these at the same time as those Baby Soda CDs and the other albums I bought that week, as these aren’t hugely awesome recordings. The musicianship is pretty weak in spots, and I’m not hugely keen on their treatment of the songs. You can buy them both on Todd’s site.
Todd, is of course, Todd Yannacone, a high profile lindy hopper from America. He was teaching (and playing music) the weeks I was in Herräng, and dropped these CDs into the LHS.
It’s perhaps a little unfair to compare these CDs with the other albums I bought at the same time. They’re definitely in the ‘home made’ category: rough and ready home made ‘covers’ (bits of A4 paper with black photocopy/printed art), burnt CDs, obviously made at home. The music carries the same aesthetic: home made, lo-fi, DIY. There’s something to be admired in this, but then I need the music to measure up to this deliberately understated approach to packaging, and it’s not quite there. You might like it, though – so give them a listen when you can.

The interesting part, though, is that each of these albums is clearly occupying a different niche in the jazz world: the Po Boys are in that NOLA street jazz style, and the Hot Club is more manouche. It’s clever, and it demonstrates a clear understanding (both in terms of packaging and musical style) the difference between the two. I’d expect nothing less of Todd, whose dancing has always demonstrated a very nuanced understanding of jazz music structure and style.

If I had to, I’d say I preferred the Hot Club album more than the Po Boys, but that’s a very crowded and competitive scene, so it doesn’t quite measure up. Modern manouche is home to some of the very best string musicians in the world, and it’s brave to dive right on it. But, really, that’s what you have to do: give it a go. I’m not sure this band would rate much of a mention in a non-dancing scene (there are a couple of really bad moments in some of the songs), but it is the product of a dance scene (at least in part), and I bought in in a lindy hop shop, soo…

Anyway, it’s interesting, and worth listening. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye out for this stuff, and trying to support it when I can. But you have to ask yourself: where are the women in all these modern dancer-populated bands? There are a few out there, but let’s be serious: what are the gender politics at work here?

Which is my segue to the next album I bought.

5) Naomi and Her Handsome Devils‘ (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller) self titled debut album

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This band were playing in Herräng for three nights in week 2, when I was staff DJ. Naomi is another lindy hopper, and another high profile American dancer. The band is made up of some very, very good musicians – most of whom are in (or have recorded with) Gordon Webster. Webster is of course the darling of the international lindy hop scene at the moment. The Devils’ guitarist is Jake Sanders, who led the Cangelosi Cards (!!) and has been involved with the Fat Babies. Both top shelf dance bands. Adrian Cunningham is involved with all sorts of projects, as I’ve mentioned me before. Matt Musselman has played with Gordon Webster, Vince Giordano (!!), Sly Blue… and so on. He is the business. I recommend reading about the rest of the band on the website.

This is, without a doubt, Naomi’s band. She is the boss, the leader, the front woman. And it shows. The musicians are a pretty scrabbly lot, and it takes some iron will to get their shit together.

I DJed after the band one night (the first or second, somewhere in the middle of the week – it’s kind of a blur for me now), and got to see the band in action from behind the scenes.

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Naomi is, unsurprisingly, if you’ve ever met her or done dance classes with her, one seriously arsekicking chick. She is organised, professional, capable, and hardcore. I’m not, however, a fan of her voice. I just don’t like it very much. This is a matter of taste, of course, and as we all know, getting shit done in the live music business is about more than voice. In fact, your voice is much less important than absolute determination, and arse-kicking fierceness. I actually really enjoyed her work with the Cangelosi Cards on the little Three Diamonds* e.p. which was discussed in a lovely story on Jazz Lives a few years ago.

What I think Naomi does, and which is much more important, is lead a very good dance band. She has an ear for great dancing songs, and the album is a combination of old dancing favourites, currently popular dancing songs, and jazz standards. The treatment is just right for dancing: the tempos are just right (a little quicker than was popular a few years ago, but this where Naomi’s choices are, again, right on the button), the band swings like a gate, and the music has a hot, exciting energy that borrows the fun from NOLA, but marries it with a NY sophistication. It is, at heart, popular music, and it probably wouldn’t excite a hardcore jazz nerd, but it’s just right for dancers.
Naomi’s packaging of the band is just right – the branding combines that idea of the ‘tweety’ (an attractive woman fronting a band) with the actual physical presence of a capable, professional woman. Naomi herself tends to perform in gorgeous shiny, or spangly gowns, and her dance experience shows in her stage presence. She’s great to watch on stage, something that a lot of jazz bands don’t quite get: you have to entertain when you get up on stage. Particularly if you’re playing standards.

Most interestingly I think Naomi’s managed to take what is essentially the same band as Gordon Webster records and works with, and repackage it to suit her own particular image and vision. When you watch the band perform, it’s really clear that this woman has planned out the set list carefully, is the boss on-stage, and is firmly in control of this performance. As I said, that’s a real art considering just who’s in this band.
Buy this one, especially if you’re a dancer just beginning to build a music collection.

A note about purchasing and online presence: Naomi’s band has done a brilliant job of providing just what we need. It’s easy to buy this album – you can get it in hardcopy from CDbaby, or download it from bandcamp for immediate gratification. The website isn’t the prettiest thing on earth, but is FABULOUS if you’re a reviewer looking for useful information, nice photos, and good links. Many (most?) of the modern bands working with (or wanting to work with) dancers should pay more attention to this sort of thing.

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6) To conclude, I have to add a note about the Stockholm Swing All Stars.
Another of the bands on the ‘official’ live music program at Herräng, this band just blew my brains. They were easily the best band I saw at the camp, and one of the very best bands I’ve ever seen. They were solid, swinging hot combo gold. Just so, so wonderful for lindy hop. A fantastic lindy hop band. None of this flirting with NOLA influences or wooing manouche. Four on the floor, solid swinging goodness. I had the best dances of the two weeks I was in Herräng to this band. Wonderful stuff.

So of course I bought a CD. I bought ‘Stockholm Swing All Stars Play Ellington’, which is really good, but isn’t perfect for dancing. Some of it is really great – ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ rocks. But it’s 5 and a half minutes long. Some of the other stuff is a bit rambly and ‘modern’, etc etc. It’s a fab recording, but it’s not what you need for DJing for dancers. Hells, just hire the band. They’re worth it.

*Naomi Uyama and Tamar Korn were joined by Mimi Terris on that recording, and she has some very pretty music for sale.

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