The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: Jazz Age – album review
Jazz Age – The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (BMG Rights Management)
As Ian Johnston will explain this latest release to bear the name “Bryan Ferry” is a curious concept & one that might not be to everyoneâs taste, however if in the right mood it still works.
Style, wit, sophistication, hopeless romantic yearning – any long standing aficionados of Bryan Ferryâs work with the truly innovatory and endlessly influential Roxy Music of the 70s, and in his own fine solo work, will not be surprised that the peerless British singer/songwriter has turned to the jazz music produced during the Roaring Twenties for inspiration in the 40th year of his highly distinguished career. From the classic eponymous first Roxy Music album issued in 1972, Ferry has invariably produced compelling music that has simultaneously gazed expectantly into the future while taking a sidelong, loving glance into the distant past.
Bryan Ferry and the Roaring Twenties were made for each other: and not just because of that iconic cover album image from 1974 of the suave singer, poolside, wearing a white tuxedo for his second solo album, Another Time, Another Place. Ferry has always been an artist of continual progress, charm and originality, obsessed with the decade of modernity, F. Scott Fitzgerald and glamorous decadence. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of his brilliant career as solo artist and the architect of the enduringly intoxicating Roxy Music, Ferry has re-recorded some of his most durable compositions performed by the remarkable The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (led by Colin Good on piano, who arranged and directed Ferryâs previous 1999 collection of 1930s numbers, As Time Goes By) in the style of the 1920s. What is surprising is that Ferry (surely one of the greatest lyricist that the UK has produced since the 50s) has recorded the songs as instrumentals and that the whole project feels as effortless, thrilling and celebratory as it does.
In lesser hands, this enterprise might have fallen into mere pastiche or vacant imitation but Ferry and Orchestra have managed in unison to fashion music that sounds incredibly authentic to the era (the producers of the excellent Boardwalk Empire take note; any one of these compositions could be used in any new episodes of the series and nobody would be none the wiser) and discover new qualities and subtle nuances within Ferryâs 13 dazzling songs included here.
Produced by Bryan Ferry (who does not play a note on the record) and Rhett Davies, Jazz Age channels such 20s American big band jazz leaders as Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrongâs Hot Seven, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbeckeâs Wolverines, Jerry Roll Morton and Duke Ellingtonâs Cotton Club Band. As Richard Williams observes in the liner notes, these US influences are blended together with British artists of the period (such as the dashing Billy Cotton and Buddy Feathersonhaugh) and the ambience of the fiction of author Michael Arlen to produce the perfect remake/remodel of Ferryâs songs.
It is amazing how suitable the 40 year old space age debut Roxy single âVirginia Plainâ sounds as an up-tempo 20s jazz dance number. âJust Like Youâ (from the third Roxy LP Stranded) is transformed into a classic Jazz Age waltz, while the 1975 single from Siren, âLove Is The Drugâ, is moulded into an eerie, funereal New Orleans blues, giving the song much more gravitas and poignancy than it originally possessed. The future shock Science Fiction themed âThe Bogus Manâ (from Ferryâs favourite Roxy LP, the 1973 second album For Your Pleasure) also now has a suitably lugubrious, sinister air (imagine Charles Mingus Big Band playing Ellington) that makes an uncanny twin to Weill and Brechtâs âMack The Knifeâ. âDonât Stop The Danceâ (the 1985 single from Ferryâs Boys And Girls) simply swings, as does the ironic choice, âThis Is Tomorrowâ (the 1977 single from solo LP, In Your Mind).
Perhaps best of all are the tracks from Ferryâs more unjustly less celebrated works. âReason or Rhymeâ (first featured on Ferryâs 2010 LP Olympia) is a somber waltz into the rain swept velvet neon night, âI Thoughtâ (co- written by Ferryâs former Roxy band member Eno for Ferryâs 2002 record, Frantic) is a reflective dance number, while the edgy funk of âThis Island Earthâ (from the underrated 1978 Ferry album The Bride Stripped Bare), now has an even more potent atmosphere of melancholy and world weary resignation. The Great Depression has hit and the 20s Jazz Age party is definitely over with this spine chilling final track.
Of course, this might not be to everyoneâs taste, but then Roxy never were just another rock group. Yet for those in the mood, when the Bryan Ferry Orchestra swings, all is right with the world.
All words by Ian Johnston. More of Ian’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here.