The Sphynx is a fantastically formed six-tracker that is over far too fast. The promise given by Jonathan Ng’s incredible paisley dressing gown on the cover is fully realised. I thought, “there’s a fellow who is going to bring the party”, and I was not wrong. With a look on his face that seems to be a quiet confidence that the party will not only happen but, thankfully, it won’t get out of hand because all his mates are well nice. This isn’t a smug look either.
I digress. Ng fronts the proceedings on violin, incorporating trad, swing, gypsy and touches of scratchy blues, in an unfussy, relaxed manner. The other members of the party (sax, guitar, piano, upright bass and drums) have genteel respect for space. This is far from a crash-about trad-swing record. There is a lot of trading, reservation and less-is-more arranging. There is only one original track by Ng, the other five are sort of second-tier standards. Unexpected choices all, except perhaps for the perennial “Stardust” that closes the record.
The balance of this record, and the pleasure of it, comes from the relaxed execution as described, but also from the production. There is something very close and intimate about the sound of The Sphynx that feels muted, woody and warm. This is especially noted on Ng’s violin on the slower tracks. There are no screeches popping out from the sax, the hats don’t pierce and hiss. This is a little slice of something sneaky, urgent, but refined and private. The performance feels incredibly live, boosting the interplay between the melodies and connection between players.
The Sphynx feels like an aperitif. And I mean this is a high compliment. Rounding off an evening, eking out the last of a nice night out. And no, I don’t wish it were longer, but Ng should definitely put out more of this thorough, mature, relaxed and emotional form of trad-swing. Definitely take note of “Gin Mill Special” with its eager sails pointed directly at swagger town.