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4 Jokers in the Pack by Echoes Of Swing

4 Jokers in the Pack makes the definitive case that less can be more. Echoes of Swing, an international band based in Germany, evokes the little big bands of the thirties and forties - at times you may be reminded of the John Kirby and Raymond Scott small groups. Four of the numbers are associated with Kirby - "Royal Garden Blues," the light-hearted fugue," Double Talk," " Tunisian Trail" (once in the Johnny Long book), and Charlie Shavers' " Rehearsin' for a Nervous Breakdown." On "Breakdown", Colin Dawson is Charlie Shavers and multi-instrumentalist Chris Hopkins' alto suggests that long-ago era. (Earlier this year I reviewed his most recent album.Teddy Wilson in 4 Hands - a two-piano CD featuring the versatile Hopkins and Dick Hyman!) Dawson also channels Chet Baker with his vocals on "June in January" and "I'll Get By." The pianist is Bernd Lhotzky and Oliver Mewes is on drums.

This foursome becomes an Ellington ensemble on "Conga Brava," "Lament for Javanette" and "Dancers in Love" while Lhotsky's chart for "Some Other Spring" is a perfect match for that beautiful ballad.

An orchestral sound with just four players? I hear a bass when there isn't any? It's not magic, but superb musicianship and ingenious arranging. ( Most of the charts are by Hopkins and Dawson). The sound arises from the trumpet/alto frontline augmented by Lhotsky's right hand melody lines. The phantom bass? Mewes's bass drum and Lhotsky's strong left.

And there's no question about the word "swing" in the band's name. Goodman, Lunceford and Whiteman are honored with "Shirley Steps Out," Impromptu," and "Happy Feet" while originals include a jazz waltz by Lhotsky, a swinger by Dawson, and "Bees and Fried Lies" by Mewes, whose music illustrates his sense of humor. " Deep in the Shed", a wistful Dukish blues by Hopkins, closes the set and offers further opportunity for these talented soloists. And, not so incidentally, the recording quality matches the musicianship.

4 Jokers in the Pack, recently designated "Best International Album of the Year" by the Hot Club of France, is the fourth album by Echoes of Swing. Wish I had all four.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Echoes Of Swing
  • CD Title: 4 Jokers in the Pack
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Echoes Of Swing
  • Rating: Five Stars
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