The Jazz Age
Bryan Ferry loves to perform covers – half of his solo albums are covers sets; he’s even covered himself before – taking Roxy Music material and re-recording it as Bryan Ferry. But this is something really quite radical – even if it’s also quaint, quirky and, well, a bit cute. This is an orchestra playing trad-jazz versions of songs from Ferry’s solo and Roxy catalogues. Ferry is co-producer but doesn’t actually appear on the album – there are no vocal cuts either. He’s some sort of guiding hand, a spirit, the driving force – but he’s not actually on the album. You could argue though that he is the album – Ferry has always owned what he does, gone on to embody it; to embrace it.
So for The Jazz Age it’s a bumbling New Orleans clarinet waft version of Avalon, it’s a barely recognisable Love Is The Drug – well, until you start to pick the recreation of the melody. And it’s a wonderful take on Don’t Stop The Dance; again, cute, quirky – brassy, sassy.
Quite what all this means is – really – up to the listener. I can imagine plenty of people writing this off as silly fodder, mere folly. Perhaps others are a little too gushing in declaring it some radical rebranding/reworking/rebirth – the truth of course is usually somewhere in the centre of the extremes. And so it is here, though I’d no slightly more towards the effusive praise – because the best bits of this should provide a thrill to big Ferry fans and to those not all that fussed with his other work. And the playing – many of the instrumentalists in this ensemble have worked with Ferry previously – is top-notch; the sweet Slave To Love is another highlight, woodblocks punctuating the polite twitter of the woodwind.
In fact it’s all a bit Woody Allen Score really; but a Woody Allen soundtrack filled with songs you know (and possibly love); songs you didn’t expect to hear like this – which make sense completely in this setting.
It really is no surprise of course, Ferry’s 1999 album As Time Goes By was him turning – fully – to jazz, to standards. This is just the flipside of that, him turning his work into jazz; into standards.
I like it. I like it a lot. It is a gimmick, a novelty record. But one that also transcends the notion of novelty. The fact that one of the standout pieces here is Reason or Rhyme (originally from 2010’s Olympia) shows that this wasn’t just a chuck-off; rather a thoughtfully constructed career-embracing statement.
As it stands it’s one of Ferry’s finest. To my ears anyway…