For over 40 years the uber sauve vocalist and very romantic songwriter, 67 yr old Bryan Ferry has crafted a slate of impeccable rock albums both solo and with his band Roxy Music. But this time Ferry has thrown us a surprise curve ball with his latest, The Jazz Age, featuring the 15 piece Bryan Ferry Jazz Orchestra (of which Ferry is not a participant) time traveling back to the music of the 1920′s.
Roxy Music Redux as Big Band Swing
Ferry’s concept for “Jazz Age” presents 13 instrumental only versions of his songs in and out of Roxy Music rearranged and recorded in the jazz style made popular during F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby era, circa 1922-1928 known as “The Roaring 20’s”. In that sense Ferry succeeds, but it would be too easy to dismiss this actually well executed endeavor, as some sort of curiosity or do I dare say “novelty” record. After initial shock of what at first listen sounds like the soundtrack to an old black and white Mickey mouse cartoon wears off, take a break and listen again. Forget what the songs are, and just concentrate on how energetically precise all this 20’s jazz cacophony really is, a genre that F.Scott Fizgerald coined “yellow cocktail music”. Check out the syncopated wood blocks used in this jazz band’s arrangement of “Don’t Stop The Dance” played in the style Don Redman of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra created in the 20’s called “Big Band Swing”.
Bryan Ferry has taken a huge creative chance with this album and no doubt more than a few spoil sports will add “bad career move”. Like all Ferry albums before it, “The Jazz Age” packaging is tastefully designed by Ferry (who at one time was an art teacher) and peppered with classy period art by Paul Colin, 1927 . The lo-fi audio is crystal clear mono and sounds just like a pristine 20’s-30’s shellac record with, thank god, no embellished fake scratchy needle sounds, pops, or skips. Not all that surprising, the thirteen songs Ferry has selected here make for perfect “yellow cocktail music”, like Roxy’s “The Bogus Man”.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s The Jazz Age is an interesting and enjoyable concept but I doubt I will be listening to it on any regular basis as I prefer the original Roxy versions any day. However, “Jazz Age” does make me want to dig out my Muggsy Spanier and Bix Beiderbecke albums and revisit this cultural era when popular music really did deliver a gay old time – with class. Just like Bryan Ferry. - Eric Berg
Read up on history of the Jazz Age era with this well written overview: http://www.neajazzintheschools.org/lesson2/index.php?uv=s
Bryan Ferry discusses his new album, “The Jazz Age”