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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/22/2012)
I have always had mixed feelings about the digital music technology called "sampling" which allows an existing sound to become essentially the voice of an electronic music instrument. When it was first introduced in the 1980s, it opened some creative possibilties of weaving non-musical sounds into making something had not been heard before. But as sampling became more widely available, people started using it on existing music, and it became a major part of so called remixes, many of them cooked up by non-musical people, appropriating the creative work of others. The spate of copyright lawsuits that followed notwithstanding, sampling, remixes, mashups and other such re-appropriation of music has become endemic, especially in the dance world. Despite my life-long fascination with technology, I have come to take a dim view of most sample-based music, most of which is dumb and repetitive, but mostly because it so obviously filches the work of others.
But I enjoy finding music that breaks out of stereotypes, and serves as a notable exception to some generalization. And this week, we have one such example, though I still have some quibbles about the way the existing music was appropriated. It's by a group called Good Co. and their debut CD is called Electro Swing for the Masses.
Good Co. -- spelled with the "company" part as "C-O"-- is from the Seattle area and was founded by Carey Rayburn, who plays trumpet, along with the keyboards, samples, and the like, as well as doing vocals. The concept of the group is the sort of epitome of an anachronism, a mix of samples of old jazz and swing recordings from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, along with electronic dance beats.
Rayburn is joined by a large and variable cast of characters, including a whole horn section, a violin, and various instruments ranging from ukulele and tuba to more conventional guitar. But despite the abundance of acoustic instruments, a large part of the music involves samples, some of which sounds like new original material sampled and delivered in the typical stuttering style of sample-based music. Rayburn said he decided to do this kind of music after hearing the something with a similar concept on the European dance scene -- DJs mixing old swing recordings and samples into electro-pop.
Rayburn and his group plunge into the style weaving in old horn riffs, and some samples that are likely to be easily recognizable to jazz fans, including recordings from Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, and mixing in the interesting combination of electronic rhythms and actual horns played by Good Co. The music is a mix of original material and somewhat mutated versions songs from the swing era, most of which, by the way, are not properly credited for their source. More on that later.
The somewhat unlikely combination is creatively handled, and ranges from appealingly danceable to amusing to downright quirky. The overall mood of the album is light-hearted and often tongue-in-cheek.
The 14-song CD opens with an original piece called Tumbling Down, which like most of the material on the album, evokes the swing era. The song is more toward rock than most of the rest of the album. <<>> The samples are mainly heard on the song's introduction. <<>>
Following that is a piece called Postage that rather sums up the electro-swing style, heavily based on samples with an electronic rhythm. A further twist are the lyrics in French. <<>>
A bit more tongue-in-cheek lyrically is a track called Jazz Player which is a kind of mock lament on the life of a jazz musician. <<>>
One of the instances of obvious creative appropriation is on the track called One of These Mornings, which is clearly based on the melodic line from Irving Berlin's Puttin' on the Ritz, but is transformed into an interesting wordless vocal. <<>>
Another curious and rather fun mix is Good Advice, with a vocal sample that sounds a lot like Fats Waller. <<>>
Perhaps the most obvious re-appropriation of a jazz-age tune is East St. Louis, which is based on Duke Ellington's classic early recording of East St. Louis Toodleoo. It includes samples of what is probably Ellington's recording of it, and what sound like newly written lyrics based on the tune. It's an interesting kind of mash-up, though unfortunately, once again, the original composer, in this case, Ellington, was not given credit anywhere on the package or on the group's website. <<>>
A track called Swing It Brother is another of the more interesting ventures into electro swing. It's has a lot of samples of older jazz combined into a new tune, with even some of the new vocals mashed up into samples, and then done as a bit of a rap. <<>>
Similarly clever is Zebra Monkey which also weaves a lot of samples together, and is whose music is based on the old jazz standard I Want a New Baby. <<>>
The CD ends with its title track Good Company, probably the most acoustic track on the album, with ukulele and tuba among the instrumentation providing the backing. <<>>
Electro Swing for the Masses, the new debut album by the group Good Co. is an interesting and creative stew of some electronic dance beats with samples from historic jazz and swing recordings, all done with a definite sense of whimsy. The skill with which the mash-ups are created is fairly impressive, keeping the music interesting and resisting most of the tedious cliches of sample-based dance music. My main quibble is not with the music but with the lack of proper credits on the CD for the origin of the samples, and the lack of acknowledgement of the songs that were borrowed and remixed. It would have been useful for those without much jazz awareness upon hearing this CD to be pointed to the original recordings.
Our grade for audio quality is about a C-plus. The sound is obviously highly processed, being mixtures of scratchy old analog recordings, with overly compressed and occasionally distorted new recordings. But this kind of thing goes with the territory.
Good Co. leader Carey Rayburn said he named the group after a song by the band Queen that had a kind of old-fashioned feel to it. In this case, apparently to avoid accusations of obvious borrowing, the group always uses the abbreviation "Co" for Company. It's definitely a fun use of sampling to juxtapose the new and the old, and nicely done.
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