About this Recording
8.557177 - Ladies Only Cafe Strings: Angel Eyes
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Angel Eyes

Angel Eyes

Ladies Only Café Strings

 

In the earliest decades of the twentieth century when recording was in its infancy, before dance music and jazz were commonplace and when cinema was silent and radio was new, but as yet untried as a commercial medium, the recording companies found a most profitable growth area in what we have since broadly labelled ‘salon’, or more specifically ‘Palm Court’. The ubiquitous background music of select nightspots, restaurants and hotel lounges, at such plush venues it was played to entertain the Edwardian equivalent of 21st-century ‘couch potatoes’, but in contrast to ‘elevator music’ and other modern equivalents it was live, not canned. A long-lost night world of accordions and plangent violins, its daytime backup was a boom industry that kept both writers and players busy. Directly mirroring public taste it also provided popular ensembles with regular work in recording studios where output was as prolific as it was diversified.

 

Salon music’s early key figures were mostly violinists of European origin, moustachioed men with exotic, foreign-sounding names like Herr Iff and De Groot, who apart from the latest lancers and schottisches and cake-walks purveyed staples of the ‘genre music’ repertoire. With Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, Rubinstein’s Melody in F and pieces by Grieg, Raff or Moszkowski to the fore, they specialised in such tuneful trifles as Toselli’s Serenata, Thomé’s Simple aveu, Silésu’s Un peu d’amour and, as bosom companions to the gypsy airs (always sure sellers), tunes inspired by monastery gardens and sleepy lagoons, scores of violin-preponderant, now long-neglected miniatures with schmaltzy titles like Quand l’amour meurt or Parfum du passé.

 

By the end of the first World War the waltz had given way to jazzy American imports and within a few years the trend for hotter tempi opened a new avenue for the more adventurous groups, notably Dajós Béla, Mar˘ek Weber and Edith Lorand, who delved avidly into areas alien to pure salon (that is, into the latest jazz-flavoured fox-trots and quicksteps) and in doing so unwittingly laid the foundations of ‘crossover’. From the late 1920s onwards themes from classical landmarks were ‘jazzed up’ by small dance orchestras and big bands alike and, in a later juxtaposition well graphed on recordings, the last century’s final decades brought a cloaking of jazz in a classical idiom, ‘playing Bach jazz’ like Jacques Loussier or jazz on a Strad à la Menuhin, which despite its short-lived niche-market limitations, took the crossover style through a new phase of its evolution.

 

The vast genre music back-catalogue is not just a legacy but also a reminder that short, light classics, even ‘low-brow’ compositions elevated, have always been popular and commercially viable. The formula is proven and the advantage of hindsight and a tradition spanning more than a century is that it is now possible for Ladies Only, a seven-piece ‘classical’ chamber ensemble of Swedish Chamber Orchestra players and their arrangers, to plumb the archives for, so to speak, other suitable strings to their bows. And as they prove in this album it is possible to adapt suitable material in other styles, which when skilfully and unpretentiously managed (as here, by Lars Kallin and Kalle Ohlson) and subtly understated by the playing of the Ladies themselves, will either syncopate or ‘starch up’ to the same high standard.

 

This Ladies Only album includes a cross-section of the repertoire they play regularly on Scandinavian television Caféprograms and Melodifestivalen. In a variety of contrasting styles the pieces selected are over-tinged with an ‘olde-worlde’ or even pseudo-baroque flavour, which adds charm, for example, to Jules Caty’s pseudo-Edwardian Con amore. Probably the only piece in the album classifiable as ‘salon’, a retrospective waltz recalling an earlier idiom, it has echoes of Berger’s Edwardian drawing-room gem Amoureuse with perhaps a hint of Franz Pola’s For Love Of You (1931).

 

Tin Pan Alley is another rich seam for the Ladies Only ensemble. Standards, like Seymour Simons’ 1931 All of Me and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust (1929), just a little square-sounding become virtual twins, while a less-than-orthodox perception of Jimmy McHugh’s I’m in the Mood for Love (1935) introduces a lilting waltz and some interesting rhythmic contrasts. Jazz and bop items have distinctly classical overtones in Lars Kallin’s obliquely slanted transcriptions. Whereas Splanky (originally a Neal Hefti creation for big band), Morgan Lewis’ How High the Moon and Charlie Parker’s Ornithology sound more soporific than their models, languid violins evoke the tone-painting mood of Misty (although now best known by a 1959 No. 12 US pop chart song-hit version by Johnny Mathis, it should be remembered that the best-selling 1954 solo original featured by its creator, the ‘Picasso of the Piano’ Erroll Garner, was really a ‘rêverie for piano’).

 

By way of contrast, faster tempi are introduced with a couple of fine samples of theatre-land razzmatazz: Hello, Dolly, theme of the 1964 smash-hit show by New York-born composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and, from the world of Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Barry Manilow, the pulsating if ersatz Copacabana (the Manilow 1978 top ten hit-tune that inspired his less than successful London show of 1994).

 

A programme to satisfy diners-out and diners-in alike - so sit back and enjoy!

 

Peter Dempsey


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