Stephen Grimstead, Editor
Jaymz Bee and The Royal Jelly Orchestra, Cocktail: Shakin' And Stirred (BMG)
For starters: A routine cocktail-party topic of tiff and spat entails a spirited debate regarding gin-versus-vodka martinis. Each glorifier of his/her personal elixir will stand by it to the death -- which, in some sense, inevitably occurs later in the evening. However, when all is said and done, vodka martini drinkers retain no historical basis for their drink as the classic. Martini di Arma di Taggia -- an immigrant bartender working at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel in 1912 -- is purported to have invented the modern drink made with gin. Although gin drinks with vermouth had been around for some time, Taggia was probably the first to mix gin with dry (not sweet) vermouth, which, for true Martini imbibers, is what constitutes a Martini. It was not until the advent of James Bond in the '60s that the unheard-of concept of a "vodka martini" fogged the popular mind.
Related topic: Jaymz Bee and the Royal Jelly Orchestra have just released Cocktail: Shakin' And Stirred, a party mood-setter in the classic tradition of lounge. Canadian Bee, who fronted the jazz group from hell, Look People (during the '80s), has often been hired as a "party consultant," and will release a book this fall, Cocktail Parties For Dummies. On Shakin' And Stirred, he's joined by other artists of the cocktail scene to serve up musical hors d'oeuvres of covers (what else?!). Included are songs by Canadian entities such as Bachman Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, and Rush.
Following the lead of the now-veteran Combustible Edison, Jaymz Bee joins the party started so long ago by the likes of Martin Denny, Esquivel, and Les Baxter. But although great party fun, a final shake is missing from Jaymz Bee's cocktail. Some of the singing is less than polished, a couple of the arrangements could use more pizzazz, and a good many of the performances lack crispness. On the other hand, "Safety Dance" (Men Without Hats), "American Woman" (the Guess Who), and "You Oughta Know" (Alanis Morissette) are fabulous exceptions.
In the end: At your next groovin' cocktail party, perhaps it will come down to a matter of taste as to whether you grab that Walter Wanderly album or Jaymz Bee's new one. Keep in mind, though, that Bee is sponsored by Smirnoff Vodka -- and any true martini connoisseur knows where a "vodka martini" fits in the grand scheme of things. -- J. David Williams
Various Artists, Ultra-Lounge -- On The Rocks: Part One And Part Two (Capitol)
Few entertainment companies are better at plundering their past for profit than Capitol Records. While decades-old albums by legendary artists like Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys continue to sell solidly in perpetuity, musicologist Brad Benedict dug deeper into the Capitol vaults and inadvertently unearthed some strange audio treasures. This search for new gold to mine led to the formation of Capitol's imaginative "Ultra-Lounge" reissue series, which in turn helped spearhead the recent "exotica" revival of pop culture and kitsch from the 1950s and '60s.
To date, Capitol has released a baker's dozen of expertly compiled, immensely entertaining "Ultra-Lounge" compact discs under Benedict's supervision, ranging from Mambo Fever to Organs In Orbit; from Cha-Cha De Amor to Christmas Cocktails. Two new volumes titled On The Rocks have appeared under the "Ultra-Lounge" imprint, but with a different twist -- the mysterious subtitle, "Distilled for Easy Listening." Further examination of the packaging would lead one to believe that On The Rocks is something of a joke that no one in their right mind would take seriously -- then-current rock and soul anthems performed by decidedly unhip relics of a previous era.
Yet, the real surprise is that these unlikely cover versions aren't misguided attempts at all -- the majority of them are eminently listenable and fresh-sounding to boot! Only a few painful posturings are present, with Mel Torme's smarmy soilings of "Games People Play" and "Happy Together," and the deplorable Mrs. Elva Miller's ravaging of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" from Part Two being the only notable offenders. You won't detect any soulless Muzak meanderings here -- in fact, today's bored listener may even find these vintage mutations more tasty than the "classic rock" originals, which have been overplayed until their tried-and-true grooves now sound flatulent and flabby.
Perhaps this disorienting out-of-time phenomenon can best be exhibited through the salacious interpretation of the Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by the celebrated smoky chanteuse (and savory screen star) Julie London on Part Two. What was once considered innocent "bubblegum" in the hands of some squeaky-clean white boys is suddenly transformed into a perversely sensual come-on by the luscious Miss London. You'll never hear this song (nor any of the others deconstructed on On The Rocks) quite the same way again, and that should be considered recommendation enough for modern-day listeners who think they have truly "heard it all." -- David D. Duncan