ANDREE PAGES - Swings Both Ways (Widdershins Recordings)
by J Hunter
Heres what I cant stand about compilation discs: Theyre not organic. Sure, a compilation may give you all the hits, but the cuts are taken out of context. A CD is a snapshot of where an artists head and/or heart is at any one time, and that one hit is part of a single set of sounds that artist is hearing at that moment. For instance, you could take one of the great cuts on Andree Pages Swings Both Ways and slap it onto a compilation to good effect. But if you didnt hear the original disc, youd miss the full experience Pages and her compatriots work hard to impart.
If you go by the title, Swings Both Ways is just another set of standards from an era thats being firmly worked by everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Rod Stewart. That would be wrong. Yes, some of the pieces come from the Swing era, but others decidedly do not. If the title were to accurately reflect the mood of the disc, it would have been called Early That Evening/Later That Night. The concept is divided into two themes, each one identified by the instrumentation behind Pages; well call them Side One and Side Two, just like they would have been split up back in the day.
Side One Some Enchanted Evening: At the Hotel Club puts you in a downtown supper club at the start of the evening, with soft lights, soft piano, drinks and dancing, and that feeling that something good just might be starting here. Here Pages is backed by bassist/viol de Gamba player Jay Elfenbein, drummer Peter Grant, and pianist Tom Nelson. The material all standards ranges from the sultry (Ellingtons Sophisticated Lady, Cole Porters Get Out Of Town) to the just plain fun (St. Louis Blues, the Rogers/Fields comp Its Crazy). But its all slick and polished, just like the club itself.
Side Two In The Wee Small Hours: The Basement Dive takes us further into the evening, and into someplace thats not so slick, where some people may just be doing other people dirty. The instrumentation gets spare, with guitarist Dan Rothstein replacing Grant and Nelson. Here things are much less formal; the ties have been loosened, the top buttons have been unbuttoned, and the lyrics have gotten harder, just like the drinks. Pages lets the bitterness in the Gershwins My Mans Gone Now come through with no stops, and her cover of Monks Round Midnight sums up the weariness of it all.
Whether its early in the evening or later that night, the pieces on Swings Both Ways are firmly in her wheelhouse. Her readings of the material, while never daring, are strong and faithful, and all flights of expression stay within her base and never detract. Nelsons piano is a joy, and it made me want to hear him duke it out with Rothstein on Side Two, particularly on Round Midnight. However, Rothsteins guitar was a quiet driver who doesnt need a wingman on Side Two, and his subtle sub-references brought a giggle and a gasp to a satisfying performance. Elfenbein provided solid bottom throughout, changing his attack to suit the club he was in at the time.
But its not just the music or the musicians; Swings Both Ways is about the experience, the concept, and Pages straddles both worlds the slick and the seedy, the bright and the dark to give the listener a good night out. Not a nice night out a good one. Big difference. Kind of like the difference between a single disc and a compilation.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.