Boilermaker Jazz Band
Swingin' the Season
Even in an America obsessed with its youth -- a country in which griping about "better days" is a matter of childhood memories rather than dusty history -- once a year we get to look back a few decades. From the first frost until the New Year's hangover wears off, it's been declared culturally OK to consider how people lived as long as (gasp!) 75 years ago.
For the Boilermaker Jazz Band, Pittsburgh's contemporary swing exports, such an opportunity is like a sale on sock garters and spats. That the Boilermakers should find solace in such anachronism is no surprise. But more than just rolling through the warhorses on Swingin' the Season, clarinetist Paul Cosentino and Co. breathe life into these songs, making them less an exercise in nostalgia and more a reminder that the black-and-white era was lived in vibrant color.
From the stripper's tom-tom rolls on "We Three Kings," to the banjo-heavy jaunt of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and singer Jennie Luvv's USO-style croon on "Home For the Holidays," the Boilermakers' arrangements prove there to be resilience still in these chestnuts. There are tips of the derby to the music geeks, like Mark Kotishion's demanding stride piano that makes (cough) "Jingle Bells" worthy of a slot on the iPod, and straight readings that simply show off the band's dimensions: Luvv slinks up a storm on "Santa Baby," with both bandleader Cosentino and trombonist Gerry Gagnon shine on equally sultry solos.
Of course there are misfires, none more swollen than the Murph & the Magictones, shag-carpet version of "Feliz Navidad." But to make an album of holiday standards without some woes would be letting the secular progressive agenda win. To make one as well-suited to the hipster holiday homily as the all-Xmas radio stations is something both holly and jolly.