Swingadelic, which bills itself as New York’s “greatest little big band,” isn’t all that little—not in its complement of talented musicians, and certainly not in the quality of its sound. Begun in 1998 when swing jazz was in the midst of something of a resurrection, the band is still going strong, even after the neo-swing boom cooled down. With half a dozen well-received albums in their discography, they have recently released their seventh, Toussaintville, a tribute to 75-year young New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint.
The group has put together a set of 14 Toussaint compositions, two of which were originally published under the pseudonym Naomi Neville, his mother’s maiden name, and close with an original tune, “Mr. Toussaint.” It was composed by Swingadelic pianist and sometime vocalist John Bauers. The selections include all of Toussaint’s best known work, including “Java,” which was a hit in 1964 when covered by Al Hirt the previous year, and “Working in a Coal Mine,” which was a big hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966. Toussaint’s “Whipped Cream” added to the luster of trumpeter Herb Alpert in 1965, while “Yes We Can Can” was a Pointer Sisters hit in 1973, and “Southern Nights” was a huge pop/country hit for Glenn Campbell in 1977.
Just this short list of what may be the best of the best is a clear illustration of the wide ranging appeal of Toussaint’s music, and Swingadelic’s reinterpretations manage to creatively remain true to the originals.
As good as Toussaint’s music is, and as great as the many artists who have recorded it over the years are, the composer couldn’t have found an ensemble of musicians better suited to work with this repertoire. They play with a joyful enthusiasm that makes itself felt on almost every one of the album’s tracks, but most especially the instrumentals.
There is some remarkable solo work from Audrey Welber on alto sax and clarinet, and the trombone interplay between Rob Susman, Rob Ewards and Neal Pawley on the exciting “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” is a direct illustration of the tune’s title. Susman and Welber do some down and dirty solo work, and the liner notes call gospel on bassist Dave Post’s wonderful arrangement of “Up the Creek.” In addition, guitarist Boo Reiners and trumpeter Carlos Francis are credited with the fine solos on “Get Out of My Life, Woman.”
The one complaint listeners might have about the album’s solo work is that there isn’t enough of it. These are musicians that leave you wanting more.
John Bauers handles the lion’s share of the album’s vocals with a straightforward, workmanlike skill that blends nicely with the entire album. He never takes them over the top. His vocals are meant as a part of the greater whole. On the other hand, Queen Esther, who does the vocal on “Ruler of My Heart,” does a really standout job on the song. It is very much the most individually impressive vocal on the album. Although, Bauers does a fine job on “What Do You Want a Girl to Do” and the swinging “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley.”
Swingadelic and the music of Allen Toussaint: This is a marriage made in heaven.