Various Artists: Swing Around the World

Robert R. Calder

Burdened only with excruciatingly uninformed notes, this mishmash represents what the label's proprietor calls 'swing': pop that used to be called novelty, commonly with singing and swinging, jazz or cajun or South African vocal group -- you can't imagine!"

Various Artists

Swing Around the World

Label: Putumayo
US Release Date: 2005-07-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
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In the parlance of Python, this set is:
which might be a recommendation. For fun.

Excerpts from the cast-list are worth printing:

The Cool Crooners of Bulawayo
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Alfredo Rey e la sua Orchestra
Duke Heitger and his Swing Band
Renzo Arbore e i suoi Swing Maniacs
New Orleans Jazz Vipers
Ka'ua Crater Boys
Jambalaya Cajun Band
Children of the Revolution

Romane is a gypsy jazz guitarist of real accomplishment, playing quite seriously, with Francis Varis on accordion and Florin Niculescu on fiddle, and a bassist and a rhythm guitarist left unnamed, as on other Putumayo ragbags.

Duke Heitger's another serious musician, a trumpeter who makes me think of a young Doc Cheatham. The notes say he displays the "whimsical energy" of Cootie Williams. As a schoolboy I heard Williams in the flesh, and I've since spent hours listening to forty years of that towering trumpeter's recordings. Where is there any resemblance to Heitger, or any "whimsical energy" in either?

Maybe that's what characterises Clark Terry's singular vocalese, called "Mumbles", a term used to title what was maybe the recorded debut of Terry's mumbles, on a 1960s album with Oscar Peterson and included here. Terry recently mumbled to serious and wistful purpose in "Honey Man" on his recent recording of the Gil Evans Porgy and Bess suite. Long ago and done for fun, "Mumbles" attained perilous popularity via the Tonight TV show, which encouraged the then-failing Mainstream recording company to record a flop of a 'fun' set (a something-for-everyone effort which had too little for anybody in particular). The set under review here is enough of a jumble to be not quite that.

With "Mumbles", the musician was moved with his music into an 'other' culture, of 'American Entertainment', though rather less lucratively than Louis Armstrong had been in the early 1930s. Fortunately, jazz had extended across the Atlantic by the time Armstrong needed to reduce his business risk factor. Which is to say that he was such an economic property, he needed somewhere to escape to, out of the range of a liquidator. Rather Europe than a Mafia-faked traffic accident. Imagine the headlines if he hadn't got away!

What the composer of Lilac Time called the 'hectic unsatisfying fare' of jazz was both an object of serious musical interest and an element in the pop music of the time, fields straddled by the Anglo-Italian Armstrong follower Nat Gonella (if you liked Putumayo's Kermit Riggins CD, you'll love Gonella), and by pop fans who took to Romane's musical ancestor, Django Reinhardt. This set reflects jazz influence on Europe and on pop alike, or jazz affinities of an American regional music: cajun.

The dire notes in the review package (presumably printed in the paperwork with the commercially issued CD) talks of jazz and swing as separate genres, which is ignorant nonsense. Swing as a genre term includes some jazz, and also jazz-influenced pop music of a style generally current between the early 1930s and 1940s, a matter of rhythm and phrasing, whether on jazz or not. There's little jazz on some Fats Waller recordings made for the pop market; you can call them jazz if you like, but not very good jazz (like, for instance, some sad serious efforts at nothing but jazz: barren because they fail, rather than because they don't try).

The Bulawayans might have been honoured with competent discussion of the marriage they represent between African vocal group music and the jazz influences borne in on early American recordings (I'm remembering a recent BBC Radio 3 series on jazz in Africa). There is nice guitar, and presumably the Bulawayans don't go in for the tiresome period costumes of some ensembles, what the notes refer to as 'retro white smoking jackets'. Are the lapels at the rear? I don't imagine the band wear smoking jackets, either, those often padded garments gents used to lounge in. This is a presumably a bad back-translation of the continental term 'Smoking', meaning tuxedo, or in Britain dinner jacket.

Renzo Arbore is probably less famous than Paolo Conte, but much the same. "Mamma Mi Piace il Ritmo" opens with "Moten Swing" and proceeds with a sort of R&B solo on baritone sax by a player whose name I'd like to know and whose playing I'd like to hear more of. A levy should be exacted for failure to recognise good musicians, certainly in packages otherwise laden with tosh.

The New Orleans Jazz Vipers open with excellent alto in a style like the wonderful Cap'n John Handy, the last New Orleanian of Louis Armstrong's generation to start an international jazz career, and maybe the only old New Orleans saxophonist with any such career. A vocal intrudes before the trombone solo (non-vocal tracks are exceptions in this set), and I like the alto's growling frustration at not being a trumpet. The ensemble's pretty heated at the end, with a wild alto break. Can I hear more of the band?

The Ka'Au Crater Boys' style seems to derive more from 1950s Elvis Presley, with an electric guitarist (no slide) and a bassist and occasional harmony group. I take the notes' word for it that the dance tune is Hawaiian. As for the notes' reference to a "fundamental yet often unrecognized link between swing and early rock and roll," well, codswallop! Forget the cranky misdefinition of swing as something resembling 1930s jazz-pop (which Cajun is, roughly speaking), there's no shortage of remarks about the relation of one sort of pop to the pop which followed, or the bridge R&B was, Louis Jordan, the Delmark sampler of admittedly African-American 'Swing', and the honking style Swing tenor saxophonists took up. There's even Big Joe Turner, and dozens of big band hornmen who worked as sidemen on dates where there was still swing rather than hectic metronomic intensity.

Children of the Revolution begin with a virtuoso run and then go into "Minor Swing" with some nice drumming, plus percussion which could easily be called superfluous. People have been ejected from auberges for making the sort of noise Reggie Watts makes on this. Pity the fiddling is so nice; Geoffrey Castle has, it seems, played with everybody from Jimmy Buffet to the Meters. Perhaps you can hear him without distractions in their company.

African Jazz-Pop, New Orleans Jazz Jazz-Pop, Italo-Bigbandswing, and various other markers of the 'World Music' Putumayo seem to plume themselves on bringing out on CD. The present set is pretty much the sort of thing flung together by various non-musical organisations like supermarkets, with a bit of this and a bit of that, hardly much less valid information, therefore fewer factual blunders (Staphane Grappelli was not a Gypsy, Putumayo, and he never sounded gypsy!), if maybe an equally random combination of different varieties of fun.


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