Saturday, August 5, 2017

Album reviews: SWING LOW, SWING HIGH

Petite Fleur -Zzmzzy Quartet 
(Art Hurts Records)

This originally appeared in The San Diego Troubadour.
Used with kind permission
.
The summer of 2017 thus far has heard a good loud, crashing, dynamic music coming from my apartment, speed metal, hard rock and hard bebop, fast and infuriating. With the recent passings jazz-fusion guitar geniuses Larry Coryell and Allan Holdsworth  , I pulled their respective CDs from my collection and played the fastest, hardest, most blistering music I could find from these two. Understandably, noise complaints, frayed nerves and headaches ensued before long, necessitating a change of music, both in tunes, tone, and mood. Rather handily, Petite Fleur by Zzmzzy Quartet came into my possession.  Noise complaints ceased, nerves soothed, headaches abated, and the apartment currently resounds with the mellow gypsy swing of the Zzmzzy Quartet. The first word of the troupe’s name, their web site advises, rhymes with “whimsy.”

And whimsy it is, as this time honored music is performed by four skilled musicians (Beston Barnett on guitar vocals, Matt Gill on clarinet, Paul Hormick on upright bass, Peter Miesner on guitar and lead vocals) who  move through the snaky  and occasionally minor key melodies and occasionally acrobatic chord progressions with contagious good humor . This is hardly a stiff resurrection of an old timey style; this is music that pulses, moves, swings indeed, performed by some guys who continually find the sweet spot in the heart of the songs. Principle in this effect is the sultry and sonorous playing of clarinetist Gill,  who provides a tone that is rich and finds the right emotion a song’s melody suggests, either doleful or exhalting,  gleeful  or meditative. His reading of the title tune, Sidney Becket’s “Petite Fluer”, rises and ebbs fluidly, each note a smooth caress against a steady and sympathetic back up   of guitarists Barnett and Miesner and the resonant bass work of Hormick.

 Zzmzzy Quartet, in turn, sweetens the pot with fine medley of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood / Solitude”, a beautiful guitar figure framing Gill’s nuanced reading of the melody and a brooding improvisation that joins the contrasting melodies of both songs.  Sweetness abounds again with a jaunty take on “Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael, jumping and jamming with piquant guitar and reed making marvelous miracles though out.  There is quite a bit of splendidly played music on this music, not of this time but timeless in the sense of joy very fine tunes provide when played with the love and inspiration Zzmzzy Quartet obviously has. 

Those of you who like their swing jazz rousing, spiky and fleet fingered are in for a treat with the album’s last track, a robust take on “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Guitar, clarinet, trombone (form guest artist Billy Hawkins) take turns twisting and rocking the melody, the rhythm firmly propulsive, all before a wonderfully plaintive vocal from Miesner and Barnett.  This has been playing at least once a day as of this writing, which is to say that Zzmzzy Quartet’s Petite Fleur is cool and keen and a wonderful reminder that there is little in this life that good music can’t make better.


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