CD Review by Tree Palmedo —
Now in its third decade, the quartet Echoes of Swing has made a trademark of lending a spare, swinging approach to 1950s-style jazz. With two horns and no bass, the band’s subdued sound is reminiscent of the West Coast Cool style exemplified by Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, and Art Pepper. Yet on this new release, a record of winter-themed tunes recorded in the shadow of the Bavarian Alps, they mix up the formula. By adding a bassist (Henning Gailing) and the acclaimed Portland vocalist Rebecca Kilgore to the equation, Echoes of Swing add layers of warmth to their sound, making for a highly pleasant wintertime listen.
While the album doesn’t entirely avoid the canon of overworked Christmas and winter-themed tunes, the selections feel carefully curated and encompass several overlooked gems. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Winter Moon” kicks off the proceedings with a long, moody instrumental instrumental introduction and playful horn solos by trumpeter Colin T. Dawson and saxophonist Chris Hopkins. Only for the last melody does Kilgore enter, lending her expert phrasing to the song’s wintry lyrics. Other classic compositions include a bright take on Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” a bossa-nova version of Burt Bacharach’s “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle,” and a highly arranged 5/4 version of “Winter Wonderland.”
Bernd Lhotzky is the pianist and musical director of the ensemble, and he also claims the majority of the original musical compositions present on the album (though Kilgore and Hopkins also penned several numbers). In a fun turn, Lhotzky has pulled lyrics from a who’s who of legendary poets, with settings of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 97,” and Emily Bronte’s “The Night is Darkening Around Me.” The latter is an especially vibrant track, with a dark horn melody leading it off and a crisp march beat that gives drummer Oliver Mewes a subtle showcase.
Of course, the most prominent voice here is Kilgore’s. She sings like she has nothing to prove, which makes her casual, always-swinging approach to each melody all the more enticing. With her at the forefront, this snowy release will add much-needed freshness to listeners’ holiday CD collections.