The Blue Saracens
What's a Saracen?
Blue Saracens have many strengths, but perhaps the strongest component
of their new CD, What's a Saracen?, can be summed up in
two words: great arranging. The horn section arrangements throughout
are tight, fun, and tasteful. The clarinetan instrument
inexplicably absent from many neo-swing combosis used to
great effect. In addition, Michael "The Commissar" Hashim's
Coleman Hawkins-like breathiness and vibrato on his tenor work
and drummer James G. "Lieutenant Jim" Petropoulos' use
of cowbell percussion show us that this band really goes the extra
mile to capture the sound of an earlier era.
Of course, it's hard to go wrong when you're playing American
popular standards by greats such as Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman
and Lionel Hampton. But the soloing is adept and confident by
all, and the song choices are excellent. The originals are good,
too. "When Johnny Gets With the Jive" is at once funny
and darkly familiar, being about a bungling newcomer to the swing
Nicole Frydman is very musical, but at times, I wish she'd strike
a more even balance between
melody and diction. She has a tendency to
smear a lot of her words,
and whether this is
a choice or a habit is unclear. This one misgiving was mitigated,
however, by her rich tone. Indeed, on "St. James Infirmary,"
Frydman puts her cards on the table and delivers a strong vocal
performance. The gal has power.
freaks will love the consistently moderate tempo of most songs.
It takes chops to play laid back and keep a groove. Advanced dancers
will have room to dig in and get silly, while beginners will have
time between beats to correct themselves. Although What's a Saracen?
is probably not destined for the charts, it represents the work
of a well put-together group with a luscious horn section.