8 37101 16215 9
In audiophile circles, Jazz at the Pawnshop is occasionally referenced with unpleasant remarks. Lame music played by ageing white guys without a clue. But recorded beautifully in that thar Swedish joint. So who cares except for equally aged and clueless audiophiles. Right? Hindustan by David Berger and his Sultans of Swing now sets that record straight. Avoiding even headphones and digital mixing boards during the live recording session which was properly finished off with a 1950's Tesla 8-channel valve line amp -- don't even mention the word compression then -- Hindustan is ferociously dynamic. Even a first sneak over a cheap car stereo will tell the tale. Don't ask how I know. Okay, so it's the mastering equivalent of standing front row at the Nuremburg ring. Sweet thunder. Recorded in Malmo/Sweden no less, at the end of a Scandinavian road trip in September 2005 when the 15-deep band had reached that nearly psychic group soul level and contact high that comes from repeat gigs when an ensemble digs deep into their current repertoire and finesses the smallest of details in front of attuned and appreciative audiences.
And its Jazz they play. But top audiophile mastering -- incidentally endorsed on the press release by none other than Marten Olofsson of Marten Design, for speaker demos of his models -- plus a Swedish venue and Jazz here don't add up (or not as it were) to lame. By any stretch. So give the tired old pawnshop jive a rest, would ya? If you didn't already know, David Berger was the cat who "conducted and arranged for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra from its inception in 1988 through 1994. He has also transcribed more than 700 scores of classical recordings, including nearly 500 works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. And he collaborated with choreographer Donald Byrd to create the Harlem Nutcracker, a full-length 2-hour dance piece on a Tchaikovsky/Ellington/Strayhorn score." Berger's also "a seven-time recipient of the National Endowment of the Art fellowships and teaches at Juilliard." In short, he's a real heavy when it comes to Big Band music, the Swing Era in particular and thus, the golden repertoire of the Duke.
With five reeds, seven brasses, piano, bass, drums and Aria Hendricks on female pipes, Hindustan's a stompin' modern Swing session that proudly reminds us. Big Band music was the quintessential American symphonica that spawned its very own Motzars, Beathovens and Shubbertz. In the hands of the proper arranger -- who'd customarily front the band too -- Big Band Swing is devilishly intricate, harmonically daring, rhythmically complex, expansively lyrical and an ever-spinning kaleidoscope of virtuoso chopsters awaiting their turn at a scorching solo. On all that, Hindustan delivers with a vengeance.
There's Count Basie and Thad Jones numbers, Monk and Ray Noble and Gershwin chasers - key figures who enriched the dark times of the Great Depression Era and beyond. Perhaps it was the domestic misery at the time that gave the original Swing genre its doubly exuberant hard-driving spirit. As though it had to make up for unemployment and poverty all by itself. Give the people a reason to be happy while feeling surrounded on all sides by reminders of despair. For most, 2006 is fat city in the US by comparison. This perhaps explains why much of contemporary music lacks spine and gusto. Into this vacuum roars Hindustan with thirteen vibrant tunes, five of which carry Berger's authoring signature. Though truly, his imprint as master arranger is on all of 'em. Firmly. In fact, the liner notes make a point that each tune was particularly penned with individual soloists in mind, just like a screen writer dialing dialogue for a particular actor's unique delivery.
What we've got here then is true substance allied to high-level playing (experts in the field call it "some of the best big-band writing and playing you're likely to hear; the best from a new band since Thad Jones-Mel Lewis" - that's Dan Morgenstern from the Institute of Jazz Studies). I'm no expert on the era. But you needn't be. You'll realize in a heartbeat that this is the premium dope, uncut. As diehard audiophiles, you realize something else as well. This is some serious workout for your kit. Be sure to leave some room on the throttle before the first of many ensemble choruses kicks into overdrive or it'll knock the legs out from under your stool. The "Superior Audiophile Quality" marker on the front cover is no gratuitous bid for attention. It's the fact, mam. So Hindustan gets my vote as the new Pawnshop - the album you just gotta have to impress your friend with; the album you gotta delve into for America's very own Shoeman and Brookner; and the album to perhaps even get your dancing shoes out and take the missus on a few killer moves over the parquet.
It's no secret that my specialty when in comes to music isn't this genre. But I'm damn glad that David Berger took a risk and fired off a sample copy to Cyprus. I wouldn't quite know where to start if you asked me for a modern Swing reco. Until now. In my admittely small book then, this is one of the hot 'uns. It's a curtain caller. Play it again, Sam!