|The Blue-Hots is a hip Pittsburgh-based jazz vocal group that "exotically" blends pre-1960 jazz and pop music into original compositions. They are reaching new audiences with their more exotic and tuneful approach to jazz. As a tribute to the songwriting traditions of yore, they have put together this collection, their first. Rather than having the flow of a composed album, this collection is just that: a collection of songs assembled like interesting seashells found at the beach.
Although they can be filed under the umbrella of "retro-cocktail," The Blue-Hots shuffle multiple jazz idioms drawn from early 20th century pop: blues, boogie, stride, hot jazz, swing, bebop. The vocal trio at the center of it all serves as the magnetizing force keeping it all together. They are backed typically by piano, upright bass, guitar, percussion, and horn, or any combination therein. Compositionally, their songs maintain the structure, harmonic progressions, melodic lines, and syncopated rhythms found in the American musical compendium from roughly 1910 to 1960. Yet this conventional approach is hooking new listeners with its offbeat and modernistic touches; think Duke Ellington combined with Nina Simone, Gershwin combined with Patience and Prudence. Collection One presents a new band pouring new wine into very old bottles, and in so doing, create a brand new vintage.
Who: The off-pitch vocals in this remake of Jerome Kern's popular 1925 song go earnestly astray as they careen towards a climactic end. No harm is done, however, as a tightly swinging rhythm section contrasts with their undeniable charm.
My Mood: Dana Cefalo lends a seasoned Broadway touch to this curious lament. "I'm gonna throw a party or have a meltdown instead" captures the comedy/tragedy masks that this song wears. Her tone is conversational and relate-able to those familiar with the pangs of mood swings.
Chinatown: One of the earliest jazz standards around, Chinatown (1905) wins the Blue-Hots' hearts as they pay homage to the climactic structure built into the old-fashioned ABAC "hot jazz" song forms.
Won't You: This ditty sounds like a "Hit Parade" classic as it might be covered by Chet Baker in the 1950s. That it was, in fact, written in 2005 bears out in the modern lyrics (sung by Fidor Brayd), which chronicle--in real time-- the thoughts that plague a guy before a first kiss.
Ruination: Conflicting with an arrangement that might be better-suited for an awards show, this song is all skeptic-
|ism, pessimism, and anything but celebratory. Dana Cefalo's rhythmic phrasing of "I'll give you ten reasons why this or that ain't right" is only topped by her rapid enunciation that rhymes, "I'll find the wrinkle" with "that wooden nickel." A downer in sequins, for sure.
Confessin': The Blue-Hots vocalists harmonize all the augmented chords in this old Smith & Waller saw from 1929. A glockenspiel is featured.
You I'll Always Hang Onto: This original, written (and sung) by Ian Kane, is a much gentler throwback to the days of Rudy Valley and the wireless megaphone. Here, Kane croons rhyming couplets without a wasted lyrical syllable to be found. A quietly soaring bridge follows a tuneful plea, all of which sits between bookending gospel piano cadences.
When the Wagon Comes: The live recording (done in 2012) of this Louis Jordan rarity is rough around the edges. Some lyrics are forgotten, the drummer speeds up, the microphones feed back. However, things really pick up with Tucker Blythe's bluesy guitar solo and the brief but swinging gtr/pno arrangement that ensues. The singers end it with a howling, wrenching minor sixth wail.
Icicles: Written by Ian Kane and sung dramatically by Dana Cefalo, this song asks whether it is okay to temporarily date another lonely heart during winter, if only to alleviate its ennui. She consoles with "you can always blame the bleak of winter." This would never be a true Christmas song. But maybe in these lonely and alienated times, it could be.
A Hepcat's Advice: Another Kane tune, this is a happy romp through the discovery of true love. It's opening bebop line is reminiscent of Lambert Hendricks and Ross in their swinging 60s: "it's a fact, Jack, but I can't rap to you why." The rapid rhyming scheme flips the rhythms around and around, darting like a fly: "I lie awake late, can't relate to the daily grind, a cat can only take so much of that these days." Then the chorus, loaded with style and panache, sinks in different harmonic colors like a joyful heart. This song probably captures best what the Blue-Hots are going for: exhilaration.
A Hepcat's Reprise: At the end of the recording session, Brayd was caught humming the aforementioned tune when the studio engineer suggested a piano and vocal take of it. The thoughtful sensibilities of the singing here, along with the gently prodding piano, were captured in the first take.