Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Flying Horse Big Band's The Bat Swings!

The bat swings. Get it? I didn't, at first. This new release has been sitting on the review pile for a few weeks now, its bright yellow cover standing out from others. It took me forever to give it a listen, though. I've been immersed in the world of big band jazz for several weeks now, and this one was postponed for a bit for a couple of reasons--most notably because I just reviewed the Flying Horse Big Band's Big Man on Campus not too long ago and for one cabbage-headed reason or another that was enough to not worry about it for now.

I'm a little sorry that I did wait, because The Bat Swings is exactly what I needed--big band jazz that takes a thoroughly novel idea and runs with it. This is completely different from all those other releases, the ones that feature a mix of standards and originals done the high-impact big band way. This CD, however, is more than the sherbet between the courses. It's a wild and welcome tangent, a big band treatment of all the incidental music from the Batman television series from the '60s. Doesn't that sound like a great idea? That's because it is since the original music was composed by none other than the great Nelson Riddle, a man who knows a little bit about big bands.

The Flying Horse Band is part of the jazz program at the University of Central Florida and directed by Jeff Rupert. This is relevant because I've been working on that University of North Texas project (I promise I won't mention that again until I'm finished, since it seems to be a form of procrastination to admit I'm still working on it), and I'm starting to compare these college programs to their professional counterparts and trying to find subtle differences. With the last three big band jazz releases I've reviewed right here in this blog, I've felt that the pros sound like they have more composure because they have a little more experience under their collective belt and perhaps there isn't the pressure, a la Whiplash, to perform under an incredible amount of pressure. After a while, instinct kicks in and you just play. But this release sets that idea on its ear since FHBB has that same level of ease and perfection.

Most of all, it's surprising how much this novelty succeeds by not surrendering itself to those incredibly familiar Caped Crusader themes. The improvisations and solos keep the kitsch at a comfortable level, especially since they're performed by such talented musicians as trumpeter Justin Diaz, pianist Mudel Honore and guitarist Ryan Waszmer, among others. For fans of the TV show, however, the music is punctuated just enough with those big horn blasts that bat-signal the transition between scenes, or those climactic pows and zaps. If it sounds like great fun, it is, and it's the type of release that pumps energy and originality in a jazz genre that's very much focused on tradition.

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