Almost never less than entertaining, this album presents saxophonist Perry and the Edmonton Orchestra in a combination of jazz, classical, and pop (in the sense that Frank Sinatra was pop). The orchestral backing inevitably makes the music seem like a film score in places. If the saxophone over that brings to mind images of film noir and “erotic” thrillers (especially on “Harlem Nocturne”), it’s not the beleaguered instrument’s fault. The sax tends to get abused in such usage, in my view, to the point where it’s become a cliche in many instances. This album, however, manages to overcome those hurdles to such an extent that it’s truly frustrating when it goes downhill. Listening to it is like watching a film that starts out with some variations on old themes, drawing you in by the style with which they are presented. The film develops into it’s own unique beast with a twist or two, has you wanting to jump onto the screen by the last reel…and then blows it.
When it’s good, it makes me want to blow my critical cool (and you know how cool critics are…) just to tell you “Wow! What good music!” It even, in places, takes on some of the slinky, romantic qualities of a James Bond score—if any of the James Bond films were dance musicals. Which might seem an unlikely thought, but better that than Mike Meyers braying like a jackass in his latest piss-take (with the accent on piss) on the genre.
“Django” starts off the album by featuring the orchestra, letting them lay down a spare bed before Perry begins wailing over it. “Hand In Hand”‘s stop-start intro, alternating between piano and strings, gives way to what may be Perry’s finest performance on the disc. “The Old Castle” is based on a Ravel piece, and the strings and Perry’s lonely horn sound like a man trying to wander away from his ghosts. A third of the albums 17 songs are played as medleys. The “Charlie Parker Medley” takes one or two minutes to really find it’s groove, but by the time it segues from “The Song Is You” to “April In Paris,” it’s one of the best things you’ve ever heard. The “Bossa Nova Medley” gives pianist Mark Eisenmann and Latin Jazz Percussionist Ravi Poliah a chance to shine.
That’s when it’s good. When it’s bad, I get that awkward feeling you get watching someone you think should know better embarrass themselves. Where it mostly goes wrong is in Gershwin’s “Strike Up The Band.” This is done as a march, complete with popping snare drums, and it’s ghastly. And since it’s the last track, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that could wash away the memories of the rest, but fortunately doesn’t.
Despite these quibbles, and others having more to do with the packaging—I’d have liked to see more detailed liner notes getting into the thoughts behind the songs—I’ll be keeping this in my CD player. And suggest that if you do the same, you won’t go too far wrong. But I advise you to use the memory function on your CD remote-no one should have to hear this version of “Strike Up The Band” more than they have to.