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April 13, 1998

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Joanne Brackeen (Arkadia Jazz),
Catalog No. 0226 70371 2

Pink elephants have always been a fascination. At the age of eight, the ‘pink elephants on parade” scene from Dumbo made me realize that colored pachyderms have a special power all their own. Obviously, Joanne Brackeen feels the same way, since she titled her twenty- third release PINK ELEPHANT MAGIC.

Brackeen plays what Bret Primack calls a “contemporary bebop piano style.” Works for me. Like the pink elephants, her style is energetic, kaleidoscopic and has a distinct personality.

The title track has a vibrant, fluttering structure that is almost playful in its arrangement. “Ghost Butter” is rumbling fluency, with several spots of catchy piano work. Kurt Elling’s vocal accompaniment on “What’s Your Choice, Rolls Royce?” is loose and easy, complementing Brackeen’s light style. Her most graceful piece is “Strange Meadowlark,” a solo that showcases her various piano techniques.

Brackeen plays with an intuitiveness that is invigorating and doesn’t try to overreach. She knows her abilities well and capitalize on her strengths. The result is an album full of charm and character. There’s also a fair bit of diversity in the composition and playing.

At the same time, there are moments when the listener wants Brackeen and company to push the sheet music aside and fall into delirious, moody riffing. The style is easy, but the compositions get a little tight in places, such as “Wave” and “Beethoven Meets the Millennium in Spain.”

On the whole, this is a good lil’ jazz album. Whimsical, smooth and flavorful, Brackeen’s style is both entertaining and enlightening. Not a bad complement to an already diverse jazz collection.

-- Jason Ladner

Various Artists (Slimstyle/Beyond Records),

For some reason, I like swing music. Maybe it's the fact that I used to play around power lines or the deep-rooted psychological damage caused by ballroom dance lessons as a child. Whatever the explanation, I get excited when a swing album comes my way. Swing just makes you want to snap like a hepcat and wear those big wallet chains. Of course, you need the music to really be a swinger. SWING THIS BABY! II will give fans fifteen tracks from fifteen different bands.

Some listeners may recognize names like The Crescent City Maulers ("Jump Jive and Wail") and Dr. Zoot ("Jump Jive and Shake"), two bands with an easy but frenetic style. Three Cent Stomp gives a fat swing stomp with "Jimmy Primo Livin at Large." Hipster Daddy-O and the Handgranades do a fantastic job of playing swing with a modern feel, going for a blend of classic swing, subtle rock riffs and dark lyrics in "Perpetrator." The Camaros' "All I Really Want" is refreshing with its female vocals.

Less infectious is "In the Groove" by The New Morty Show which lacks some of the vigor of other tracks. Acme Swing Factory is a bit sluggish with "Deal Me In." Most of the bands put out a genuine effort. The album makes a competent addition to a fan's already established swing collection. It also showcases some serious swing bands that don't have the mainstream attention like Big Voodoo Daddies or Cherry Poppin' Daddies receive. As a casual album, most of us probably won't listen to it more than a few times. But if you're wondering what swing is, pick it up -- it's not a bad primer. Just remember: It takes more than swing music to be a true swinger. You also need bad clothing.

-- Jason Ladner

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