edited by Mark Jordan
New Stuff In Bins
The two most notable local releases this week are a pair of discs from Nu Hafi Records. The New Memphis Hepcats and C.Y.C. (short for Cooper-Young Cyndicate) are two very different bands that share some common members, most notably drummer Jeff Burch, who co-produced both bands' latest efforts.
The Hepcats, of course, have created a scene around their weekly Monday-night gig at the Hi-Tone Cafe. Capitalizing on the swing-music revival that, alas, seems to be dying down, this large jazz ensemble has caught the ears of kids as well as older adults who probably haven't been inside a club in years, much less on a Monday night. What attracts them all, however, is an old sound that is suddenly new again.
The key to swing's newfound appeal is the rhythm. More than one critic has noted that since the demise of broodish alternative music, people just want to dance a theory that explains the revival of swing and rockabilly as well as the resurgence of electronic dance music. But unlike some other forms of dance music, the Hepcats must be experienced in person, where their huge ensemble sound can sweep over you, lift you up, and pull you out onto the dance floor.
The Hepcats themselves apparently realize this, which is why their new disc, Live At The Hi-Tone, is, well, live. Recorded over the course of two months earlier this year, Live At The Hi-Tone features the band running through a set of familiar swing standards "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "Pennsylvania 6-500," and "Stardust," among others with uncommon aplomb and acuity for a group of young twentysomethings. Burch, co-producer/guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Shrader, and engineer Hank Widdop ably capture those sweaty nights, but it's just not the same as being there.
On C.Y.C.'s Toneyard, Burch has a tougher task before him. It's a much more ambitious project, and C.Y.C. had no model to follow. There are no Duke Ellington or Louis Jordan recordings to refer to.
C.Y.C. literally came out of nowhere a couple of years ago with their stunning jazz/hip-hop hybrid debut Straight From The Cyndicate, which, further blurring expectations, was co-produced by blues harpist Billy Gibson. That debut disc, recorded before they were even a cohesive performing unit, held much promise for bridging the city's jazz and blues past with its rap future. But once the live version of C.Y.C. arrived, the rap/hip-hop elements were toned down. (One notable exception being the group's performance at the post-show for last year's Memphis Area Music Awards after grabbing the award for best jazz album, the band was joined onstage by rap-album winner Lois Lane for an impromptu and revelatory jam.)
C.Y.C., like the Hepcats, has built a sizable following through a regular gig, in this case every Saturday at Willie Mitchell's Legends on Beale. Toneyard, co-produced by guitarist/vocalist Elliot Ives, also de-emphasizes the rap in favor of jazzier arrangements with token hip-hop production touches. It's way more calculated and far less daring than their whatever-works debut, but still out-there enough and enjoyable enough to make it a worthy follow-up.
And on the new national release front this week:
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Livin' In Swing City: Swingin' With The Duke (Columbia/Sony) Musical director Wynton Marsalis leads the ensemble in a tribute to Duke Ellington on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
John McLaughlin Remember Shakti (Verve)
Mike Ness Cheating Solitaire (Time Bomb) Solo effort from the leader of Social Distortion.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Bang, Bang, Bang (Dreamworks)
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