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The Blue Saracens
What's a Saracen?


The 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 clarinet—an instrument inexplicably absent from many neo-swing combos—is 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 scene.

 ATOMIC AUDIO

Hear Samples of
What's A Saracen?

He Beeped
St. James Infirmary
Oo Bop Sha'Bam
When Johnny Gets With The Jive

(Requires Windows Media)

Visit the band at www.bluesaracens.com

Vocalist 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.

Dance 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.

- Chris Orbach



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