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The Graham Album Review #1791

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The Hot Sardines
by George Graham

(Decca Records. As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/22/2014)

There has been a kind of ongoing revival for swing-era-influenced music of various descriptions over the years. In the early l980s, Joe Jackson had something of a hit with a couple of albums in that mode. With the popularity of jazz-influenced "chanteuse" women singers, over the past decade that has helped to raise the profile of the music. It was given a further boost by the popularity of the TV series Boardwalk Empire set in the Depression era.

It goes without saying that some of those groups and artists play more authentically than others. Some of the more interesting music comes when musicians mix influences, sometimes anachronistically, when they make what outwardly seems like swing revival. This week, we have a fun album from a group that combines a chanteuse, who actually does sing in French at times, plus a group that sounds like a traditional jazz band but features sometimes eclectic playful arrangements. The group and the album are both called The Hot Sardines.

The co-founders of The Hot Sardines have an interesting background: both came from a non-musical previous careers. Vocalist and composer Elizabeth Bougerol, who goes by Miz Elizabeth has an international pedigree. Born in Paris, she lived also lived in Ivory Coast and Canada growing up. Her academic credentials are a Masters degree in Media from the London School of Economics. She has had a career as a writer, including authoring a travel guidebook to seafood restaurants in New England. Outside of a high school musical, she had not performed music in public. Co-founder Evan "Babs" Palazzo is a Native New Yorker and although he played piano by ear as he was growing up, his career path took him into acting, with a degree in theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He became a working actor doing theater, commercials and some film work. But like Miz Elizabeth, he had a passion for swing-era jazz. The band had its start when, unbeknownst to him, Palazzo's wife placed a Craigslist ad looking for players interested in having a jam session with early jazz. Ms. Elizabeth showed up, leaving her company Christmas party at AOL to be there andshe and Palazzo soon became friends and collaborators, jamming together and picking up occasional gigs. Eventually, after enlisting some additional players, they landed a high-profile engagement at Lincoln Center, where the presenters were looking for a group who could perform swinging jazz songs in French.

The Hot Sardines is their debut album, and it features a mix of lighthearted arrangements of jazz standards from the likes of Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet, and some original material. Almost all of it is what could be described as "hot jazz," though there are a couple of ballads, one even with strings. But most of it is fun, danceable swing material served up in clever ways.

The rest of the seven-member band, eight if you count the tap dancer, consists of more conventional musicians, with a rhythm section and three horn players. Evan Palazzo and Elizabeth Bougerol do most of the arrangements, which can range from rather straight swing to cleverly unexpected.

Leading off is one of those creative treatments of a familiar song, the lounge favorite Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Miz Elizabeth proves to be perfect for the part. <<>> The band weaves the song into another old swing classic Diga Diga Do. <<>>

A bit more traditional in sound is their performance of Goin' Crazy with the Blues. With guitarist Sam Raderman switching to banjo, there's a definite Dixieland-era sound. <<>>

About the only straight ballad on the album is an original song by Miz Elizabeth called Wake Up in Paris. The small string section tends to undermine any attempts at swing, but Miz. Elizabeth excels on the vocal. <<>>

The Hot Sardines show their stuff on the old song Sweet Sue which they do in French as Zazou. It's one of the highlight of the album. <<>>

Another of the band's more clever arrangements comes on the Tin Pan Alley standard I Can't Give You Anything But Love. The Hot Sardines perform the song in a minor key and give it a kind of Django Reinhardt sound. <<>>

The band picks a song which is perfect for their lighthearted outlook, the Fats Waller classic Your Feet's Too Big. Palazzo does some supporting vocals, and the group's tap dancer, Eddie Francisco, appropriately makes an appearance. <<>>

Another creative arrangement comes on the band's treatment of What A Little Moonlight Can Do. It starts with Miz Elizabeth joined by Evan Crane's bass <<>> before the band turns it into a fun Latin Dixieland hybrid. <<>>

The other original tune is called Let's Go and Miz Elizabeth and Evan "Bibs" Palazzo show that they have very much absorbed the style of Tim Pan Alley songs from the past. It's another enjoyable track that shows the band's creativity.

The Hot Sardines, the debut album by the New York-based band of the same name is a fun record that definitely takes a lighthearted approach to reviving swing-era music. Co-leadrees Elizabeth Bougerol and Evan Palazzo bring an interesting twist to the music, since neither had been doing music previously professionally, but both prove themselves as worthy performers, composers and arrangers. The band they assembled is first-rate, and the mixture of swing-era tunes with a couple of authentic-sounding originals makes for a very nice though rather short program, with the CD totaling under 40 minutes.

Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The sound is clean and warm, both vocally and instrumentally. But we'll knock off the usual points for the typical volume compression that undermines the dynamics of the music to make the recording artificially louder.

In listening to the Hot Sardines, I realize that in addition to being a fun swing revival recording, it's also very danceable, if you want to do some swing dancing. It's definitely a very impressive debut album.

(c) Copyright 2014 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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This page last updated October 27, 2014