It was at the turn of the 1970s that Martin Charnin strung together those immortal words: “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” Times have since changed, Jay-Z swiped the title, sampled the track, and the knocks life deals on a day-to-day have arguably gotten harder at an in many ways nondescript time in which just about every artistic effort is scrupulously adjudged by all and sundry. Here we are, a case in point, casting a couple ears over a record that itself shuns such dismal convention. For The Jazz Age – a scintillating reimagining of thirteen tracks from across both the Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry back catalogues – was born of a time before exclusives, and premières, and the internet, even. God forbid. This is The Bryan Ferry Orchestra rekindling the sass and muffled pizzazz of the rip-roaring ’20s – coincidentally, the ten-year age bracket to which Ferry’s wife Amanda Sheppard rather horrifyingly belongs – and the sounds to have smoked from its rakish, post-war rooms and subterraneous catacombs. As such, the irrepressible delight to The Jazz Age is an almost sordid one best kept quiet. This is a cross-cultural, and indeed cross-temporal work that, well, probably oughtn’t work just as an epoch in which even the exposing of a shin would be deemed inappropriate should never be bred with the crude vulgarity of Roxy’s freethinking ’70s endeavours. Their every record – Avalon notwithstanding – came packaged in saucy pics of disrobed women designed to stoke the decade’s perhaps already overzealous male lust, for Chrissake. That to Country Life left about as little to the imagination as even a modern-day Page 3, its artistic inspiration – the female figure – about as transparent as Ferry’s very own deplorable views on bucolic pursuits. Yet the Roxy honcho keeps out of the hunt for this, his second jazzy, retro swing-styled release following on from As Time Goes By back in ’99, allowing for his ‘Orchestra of which, alas, very little is known, to truly own the recording as it were.
Ferry has long since stood by his burgeoning passion for the jazz genre, and for the 1920s too. And although it has since been veneered with a glorifying shine of polish – as one may propose are all historical times – The Jazz Age does nothing if not coat it in another quite bedazzling cladding. Alongside his in-house pianist Colin Good, the reinterpreting itself spans the boozy opener of both this particular record and Roxy’s For Your Pleasure of ’73, Do The Strand, to a seductively louche rendition of Reason Or Rhyme from Ferry’s latest solo plump, Olympia. A recherché standout there more than it may be perceived here, it stands for one of the album’s more languid instants, purring irresistibly as opposed to ever really roaring per se. Another of its successes lies in its immediate perceptibility: it may skulk and brood with only slight movements, but it is overtly identifiable from the off. Which is more than can be said for that which follows in the form of a staccato, quasi-parodical, and wholly indiscernible stab at Virginia Plain. Agreeable enough, even on first; second; thirteenth listen even, it bears such a negligible semblance to its origin that it finds itself helplessly (one might contend hopelessly) mistaken for any ol’ ballroom waltz; a first prance for returning spouses, grime still strewn from one side to t’other of a brow sweated quick-smart by a reacquaintance with the feel of the opposite sex. Perhaps more shellshocking still is the mistranslation of This Island Earth into an off-kilter salsa slump. Though even when the ‘Orchestra aren’t firing on all cylinders, they contrive to enrapture, so silky is each rework.
Thus it should be of little wonder that when they really parp up a storm – as the do on a wondrously sprightly, giddy Avalon, or Don’t Stop The Dance that recalls the king of the swingers; the jungle VIP sullying the surreptitious back room of Reinhardt and Grappelli’s beloved La Grosse Pomme with malodorous excrement having quite literally lost his shit – they triumph with the majesty of a certain Parisian Arc. Whether that’s the skew-whiff skiffle of an irrepressibly ebullient This Is Tomorrow, or the lethargic slobber of a gloriously sluggish Love Is The Drug that plays indolently, as though fucked off its own resplendence, or the twiddly, skadoodly-bop bits of an again risible Slave To Love The Jazz Age is a joy to shack up within. It evokes nostalgic pining not only for times many of which you’re highly unlikely to have ever possibly inhabited if you’re reading this right now, but also for the first, second and, inevitably, umpteenth time you hear it. It’s rich, and highly respectful of its every many reference point, and hugely memorable. Yes, it may be a record of little variation with only mildly varying results across its quite condensed tracklisting though for Good, Ferry, and the ‘Orchestra to have so finely aligned almost forty years of composition into an album as coherent as The Jazz Age is thoroughly commendable in itself. Bravo! And Dance Away.
Released: November 26th, 2012 [BMG]