Sometimes you want something a little different – a new take, an original arrangement, an original number. Other times you just want a well-made solid classic. And sometimes you want it all, without compromise. On these occasions, opt for the Shirt Tail Stompers and enjoy “London’s hottest vintage jazz, prohibition, swing dancing and cabaret”.
Enter directly is their new album, released at the end of December, and it really is a Merry Christmas. Because it came with gifts of big band belts, frenzied R ‘n’ B and an original track to top it all off. Musicality and production quality are no less than you would expect from one of Britain’s finest swing outfits, with players as esteemed as pianist Luca Filastro, trombonist Callum Au and saxophonist Duncan Hemstock, each a conductor in their own right. Nicholas D. Ball backs them, and what this man doesn’t know about jazz drumming isn’t worth knowing.
The Filastro ride feel is the star of this show, for my money. It might have to do with my well-documented bias towards the keyboard, but I’d like to think it owes at least as much to a winning combination of delightfully deft songwriting (e.g. “Bug in a Rug”) and the occasional head- turn solo (e.g. “Just You, Just Me”). But every man and woman brings their best to this digital record, with no failed performances between them.
Take “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, perhaps my favorite standard of them all – it has a catchy melody, a cheerful disposition, plus it was the first dance at my wedding. It’s a track that always draws me to an album and a barometer by which I will always judge it. (I feel the same way about mashed peas – it’s the mashed legumes, not the fried foods, that make or break my opinion of a chip shop.) Luckily, taking the Stompers is an absolute best belt.
Filastro’s subtle piano lays a solid foundation for Sarah Oschlag’s brilliantly syncopated vocal treatment, reminiscent of the Nat King Cole Trio’s rhythmic gymnastics version. An instrumental interlude features a catchy horn riff that amps up the excitement with each repeat, before the track culminates with another verse from Oschlag. I’ve heard many versions of this song – several as good as this one – but I’ve never heard it done better. (I’m curious how well they make peas.)
Other highlights include “Walkin’ Blues,” a fairly faithful recreation of the Fluffy Hunter hit that really needs no embellishment, with another impressive vocal from Oschlag. Then there’s “Your Feet’s Too Big,” the Fats Waller classic that barely stretches Filastro’s fingers, and over which Hemstock’s Aussie-tinged vocals are cartoonish joy. “9:20 Special,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and “It Had to Be You” provide plenty of beloved, steady-paced footwork, making this one a surefire hit for Lindy’s dancers and of Balboa.
So if there’s a jazz lover in your life whose Christmas present you forgot – or love them enough to get them another – then head over to Bandcamp and send them a copy of Enter directly. At just over $10 for eleven smashing tracks, it’s a Stompers holiday bonus for all of us.