Victor Saumarez,
Swing Strings
(independent, 2006)

Jaunty, toe-tapping and -- well, swingy, Swing Strings is a playful collection of swing favourites and other classic tunes arranged a la Django Reinhardt, the late great gypsy jazz guitarist. Victor Saumarez's guitar is the driving force behind the recording, providing the strong 4/4 rhythm of swing music and carrying the melody at the same time. He pulls it off with panache: the resulting sound is crisp, clean and nimbly energetic.

It's almost a shame that none of the 10 tracks are Saumarez's own compositions. Instead, Saumaurez covers -- and in some cases transforms -- tunes as eclectic as George Gerswhin's "Summertime" and Cole Porter's "Night & Day." Of course, Django Reinhardt also makes a few appearances.

If you're wondering how "Summertime" could possibly be transformed into a swing piece, you owe it to yourself to check this CD out. Saumarez takes Gershwin's languorous melody and gives it a sauntering rhythm that retains something of the spirit of the original. Impressively, the only two instruments involved are guitar and bass. The laidback tempo, a little surprising in a swing album, is repeated on several tracks, ranging from the sweet "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" to the smoothly jazzy "Night & Day."

Although the guitar dominates, other instruments add variety and colour from time to time. The CD opens with a frenetic version of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing," in which Benedickt Brydern's sly gypsy violin forms a duet with Saumarez's guitar. Kyle Newmaster's trumpet gives a smooth, big band feel to Django Reinhardt's "Swing 39."

Only "Minor Swing" is a little disappointing, probably because so many people have already covered this infectious Reinhardt melody in so many ways -- my favourite being the more percussive version on the Chocolat soundtrack. There's nothing actually wrong with Saumarez's, but it lacks the innovation of the arrangement of "Summertime" and the furious fingerwork of tracks like "Bye, Bye, Blackbird."

On first listen, the 10 tracks can be a bit difficult to distinguish, particularly for someone unfamiliar with the original melodies, but all are immediately palatable -- provided you like swing music, of course.

This would be the perfect CD to play at an upscale cocktail party with a 1930s flair. Saumarez's clever arrangements temper older melodies with modern jazz sensibilities, so while Swing Strings sounds pleasantly, romantically anachronistic, it never sounds outdated. Neither slavishly accurate nor self-consciously post-modern, this is a fun listen for swing aficionados and jazz fans alike. At just over 40 minutes, Swing Strings seems far shorter than it is.

review by
Jennifer Mo

19 January 2008

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