Echoes of Swing ‘Blue Pepper’ (ACT) 3/5

Echoes_of_ Swing_Blue_ PepperReviving the music of the swing era is not an in-vogue trend among jazz musicians, but it is precisely this attempt which lies behind the logic to American/British/German represented Echoes of Swing. They were formed in 1997 and have recorded several albums including their last ‘Message from Mars’. The opener and title track is actually a misleading number and would have been better placed towards the end. It is nonetheless an excellent interpretation of the mid-1960s Blue Note era and very much in the soul-jazz bag with a feel of a Horace Silver meets Donald Byrd or Hank Mobley collaboration. There is progressive big band on the Ellington/Strayhorn opus of the title track which originally dates from the ‘Far East Suite’ in 1966, but here has been transposed into a smaller combo setting while the latinization of ‘La Paloma Azul’ recalls the thrilling alto saxophone of one Paul Desmond.

Echoes of Swing are not a swing band in any conventional sense, but they do have to make their mids up as to what their distinctive identity is. Are they retro-swing, or progressive soul-jazz with a hint of be-bop?
They veer towards the former on pieces such as ‘Azzurro’ which is the kind of number that Paolo Conte might have recorded and could be right out of a Fellini film soundtrack. Blues inflections permeate the vocal-led ‘Blue Prelude’, though it has to be stated that the vocals, doubtless influenced by the Chet Baker approach, are a tad weak. Some of their own compositions such as ‘Out of the blue’ are somewhat twee. On the other hand, ‘The Smurf’ is an uplifting piano-led piece. In essence then, the band need to be much clearer in communicating their direction and if they wish to explore different facets of the jazz tradition, then do so in coherent separate projects. Tim Stenhouse