Any of Progarchy’s Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry followers are probably already well aware that one of Britain’s greatest vocalists of the rock era has released an instrumental album. A hot jazz album at that. Ferry’s project was to recast a handful of his classics — for in addition to his distinctive voice the man is a fine songwriter — as Dixieland standards. The improbable outcome of this ambition is that it works, and then some. I think this is due to the soundness of the songs, Ferry’s deep feel for melody, and the rich layering that Roxy and his solo bands brought to the originals. There are a lot of horizons these songs could veer off towards, and to hear “Avalon” and “Virginia Plain” receive a Hot Five treatment could make you think they were written for that type of performance. “Love is the Drug” becomes a haunting Cab Calloway standard, and it’s possible to hear Ferry’s early influences — there is no way he could not have loved Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.”
Ferry brought to these interpretations the desire to emulate not only the arrangements of old jazz records but also their sound. The band he put together recorded with one vintage microphone in the middle of the room — although he concedes each musician was also miked separately (which more easily accomplished the “stepping up to the microphone” of soloists of the jazz age) — with the entirety mixed and released in mono. I supposed one could see affectation here, and there are plenty of Ferry followers who would rather the man write new songs or partner with Eno or whatever…. But Bryan Ferry has made a career and art out of affectation, and that he does it so well on The Jazz Age is a real testament, I think, to his talent as a songwriter and his skill as a performer. I should emphasize, too, that this is not Rod Stewart reinterpreting the standards in front of a full orchestra, or “Pickin’ on Roxy Music,” but rather in its eery mono-ness conjures the craziness of Raymond Scott, the wooziness of the American swamp. There is edge here.
Last month Bob Boilen interviewed Bryan Ferry on NPR’s All Songs Considered, and while I’ve been a fan of Ferry since Roxy’s Avalon came out, I found his thoughts on his new record illuminating of his career as a whole. Check it out here.