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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


Swing Nouveau
Shakin' When Stirred

Swing Nouveau's Shakin' When Stirred (Swing Nouveau) is comprised entirely of tried and true "potboilers" of the swing genre. The danger when selecting material like Freddie Green's "Corner Pocket," Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Train," or any other of the classic tunes on this album, is that such great versions of them already exist. Consequently, the best one can hope to achieve is either to equal the originals, or to approach them in such a new way that one's own rendition carries some weight.

Sadly, Swing Nouveau have done neither. From its start, Shakin' When Stirred shows signs of promise with slick ensemble playing, good arrangements, and a fine rhythm section. Indeed, some of the drumming is excellent, fulfilling the great big band tradition of "kicking the brass in the ass," as arranger and producer Don Sickler once said. Unfortunately, most of the soloing and vocals fall short in quality compared to the ensemble playing. On a chorus of "Corner Pocket," a member of the brass fudges a note of the head melody! How could they leave that in the mix? Aside from a few inspired moments, the instrumental soloists (not specified by track) seem to be fumbling and searching, while the vocalists (again, not specified) rarely transcend passable.

With so many great versions of "Mack The Knife," "It Don't Mean a Thing," and "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" already in existence, tackling these tunes is a tall order, even for really sharp, experienced singers. The tentative deliveries here, some of which are buried in the mix (intentionally?), don't match the caliber of many existing renditions, and don't possess enough originality to give the standards their own spin. Although the arranging is very able and there are some smooth tempos to dance to, Swing Nouveau regrettably fall at least one vocalist and a couple soloists shy of the mark—a mark set perhaps unfairly high by the greats before them.

-Chris Orbach

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