"Swing has swung,
So goes the biz,
I wonder where the hep cats is?"
In Winnipeg, it would seem.
While the so-called "swing revival" may indeed be in remission, here’s proof that there’s plenty of life left in the music itself.
The Swing Cats are a seven-piece combo anchored by the musical partnership of vocalist Gary Grosvenor and tenor sax/arranger Janice Finlay. Their debut, "Every Night & Every Day," was recorded live at an outdoor festival on a sweltering summer day, with severe thunderstorms on the horizon.
Poor thunderstorms. They didn’t stand a chance against the power of the ‘Cats!
With a fearsome roar, these felines bare their claws right off the top with "Hornucopia," an original that sets the tone for the disc. Punchy horns, a killer beat, smooth vocals . . . and they swing like mad!
Up next, "Assembly Line" rides a walking bass line (courtesy of Jason Munroe) that’s reminiscent of "Stray Cat Strut." The title tune has a dreamy, dare-we-say romantic mood that allows Gary to show that he can croon with the best, as does "Pennies From Heaven."
It must have taken courage for the ‘Cats to tackle the Roomful Of Blues classic, "Dressed Up To Get Messed Up," as well as "Big & Hot," originally from Boston’s Love Dogs (an admitted influence). Both Roomful and the ‘Dogs are pretty definitive when it comes to horn-fuelled swing-blues. In both cases, however, comparisons will favour the ‘Cats – they more than hold their own.
"Park’s Place," taken at dizzying speed, shows the chops are there. But it’s on originals like "Catwalk" and "The More Things Change" that we see what the Swing Cats are really made of. Sophisticated arrangements that feature razor-sharp guitar (David Laroque’s fretwork is a highlight throughout), turn-on-a-dime horns, and Kelly Leveille’s busy-but-musical drums are all marshaled to augment and reinforce the songs themselves.
There’s something of an historical context for the Swing Cats sound; back in the late forties/early fifties, most of the ‘big bands’ found it impossible, from an economic standpoint, to tour any longer. The resultant downsizing led to a leaner, arguably harder-edged sound. Stylistically, that’s pretty much where the ‘Cats sit, with both jazz and blues sharing equal prominence.
Make no mistake, though - there’s far too much original musical thought happening here to call this a retro act. Nor will you find another ho-hum bunch of standard chord progressions; the Swing Cats use everything at their disposal to make this stuff challenging, interesting, and most important, fun!
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This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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