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Intriguing Release; Mixed Results
on February 12, 2013
This release comes, as Ferry might put it, from "out of the blue." It's an intriguing and perhaps bold move that has, I think, mixed results. First of all, whatever else this album may be, it is NOT musically comparable to the virtuosity of Duke Ellington's Washingtonians, or other early jazz legends as some reviewers claim. The arrangement of Love Is The Drug, is clearly modeled on tunes like East St. Louis Toodle-oo--as one reviewer points out. But there's no comparing the respectable retro soloists in The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (with Alan Barnes and other British jazz musicians) to Bubber Miley's plunger-muted trumpet work on the aforementioned Duke classic. Other songs, such as This Is Tomorrow, seem to emulate Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives. It even kicks off with a lone trumpet intro that nods directly to the classic intro to West End Blues. The remainder of the song comes off a bit like an uptempo Hot Fives tune. But the bottom line regarding these comparisons is that there's just no way to recreate the inspired melting pot of virtuosos and creative geniuses that coalesced in the Harlem of the 1920s. Legends like Duke, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Bessie Smith,Earl Hines, King Oliver and all the others can be admired from a distance, but never really imitated convincingly. For a tribute to Duke, I would recommend The Vienna Art Orchestra's versions which don't try to imitate the originals as much as breathe new life into them.
Nevertheless, it is very interesting to see how these old Roxy and solo Ferry faves sound when they are processed through retro 20s style jazz as instrumentals. My opinion is that some work much better than others. Love Is The Drug really does work in this context, while the haunting melodies of This Island Earth are only diminished in comparison to the original 70s solo Ferry version. The rigid meter and dynamically flat contours of the remake here just don't flatter it, imo. I was really interested to see how The Bogus Man (one of Roxy's more avant-garde efforts) would work as 20s-style jazz. It is probably the most adventurous reworking on the album. It sounds a bit surreal-- pleasantly anachronistic. This may be due to the melodic and harmonic aspects of the song, which don't resemble anything from the 20s jazz legends--even the adventurous Duke Ellington in that period. But for that reason it sounds experimental and, to me, compelling. Anyway, these are my impressions, and an album like this is sure to excite some and disappoint others. The songs themselves are great, the playing here is quite accomplished (not brilliant or anything) and the album gives fans a chance to re-imagine Ferry's output from the 70s classics to recent material. I'm sure it will divide listeners, but I found it worthwhile as a diehard Ferry/Roxy fan.