Ladies Only Cafe Strings
In the earliest decades of the twentieth century whenrecording was in its infancy, before dance music and jazz were commonplace andwhen cinema was silent and radio was new, but as yet untried as a commercialmedium, the recording companies found a most profitable growth area in what wehave since broadly labelled 'salon', or more specifically 'Palm Court'. Theubiquitous background music of select nightspots, restaurants and hotellounges, at such plush venues it was played to entertain the Edwardian equivalentof 21st-century 'couch potatoes', but in contrast to 'elevator music' and othermodern equivalents it was live, not canned. A long-lost night world ofaccordions and plangent violins, its daytime backup was a boom industry thatkept both writers and players busy. Directly mirroring public taste it alsoprovided popular ensembles with regular work in recording studios where outputwas as prolific as it was diversified.
Salon music's early key figures were mostly violinists ofEuropean origin, moustachioed men with exotic, foreign-sounding names like HerrIff and De Groot, who apart from the latest lancers and schottisches andcake-walks purveyed staples of the 'genre music' repertoire. With Mendelssohn'sSpring Song, Rubinstein's Melody in F and pieces by Grieg, Raff or Moszkowskito the fore, they specialised in such tuneful trifles as Toselli's Serenata,Thome's Simple aveu, Silesu's Un peu d'amour and, as bosom companions to thegypsy airs (always sure sellers), tunes inspired by monastery gardens andsleepy lagoons, scores of violin-preponderant, now long-neglected miniatureswith schmaltzy titles like Quand l'amour meurt or Parfum du passe.
By the end of the first World War the waltz had given way tojazzy American imports and within a few years the trend for hotter tempi openeda new avenue for the more adventurous groups, notably Dajos Bela, Mar˘ekWeber and Edith Lorand, who delved avidly into areas alien to pure salon (thatis, into the latest jazz-flavoured fox-trots and quicksteps) and in doing sounwittingly laid the foundations of 'crossover'. From the late 1920s onwardsthemes from classical landmarks were 'jazzed up' by small dance orchestras andbig bands alike and, in a later juxtaposition well graphed on recordings, thelast century's final decades brought a cloaking of jazz in a classical idiom,'playing Bach jazz' like Jacques Loussier or jazz on a Strad ?á la Menuhin,which despite its short-lived niche-market limitations, took the crossoverstyle through a new phase of its evolution.
The vast genre music back-catalogue is not just a legacy butalso a reminder that short, light classics, even 'low-brow' compositionselevated, have always been popular and commercially viable. The formula isproven and the advantage of hindsight and a tradition spanning more than acentury is that it is now possible for Ladies Only, a seven-piece 'classical'chamber ensemble of Swedish Chamber Orchestra players and their arrangers, toplumb the archives for, so to speak, other suitable strings to their bows. Andas they prove in this album it is possible to adapt suitable material in otherstyles, which when skilfully and unpretentiously managed (as here, by LarsKallin and Kalle Ohlson) and subtly understated by the playing of the Ladiesthemselves, will either syncopate or 'starch up' to the same high standard.
This Ladies Only album includes a cross-section of therepertoire they play regularly on Scandinavian television Cafeprograms andMelodifestivalen. In a variety of contrasting styles the pieces selected areover-tinged with an 'olde-worlde' or even pseudo-baroque flavour, which addscharm, for example, to Jules Caty's pseudo-Edwardian Con amore. Probably theonly piece in the album classifiable as 'salon', a retrospective waltzrecalling an earlier idiom, it has echoes of Berger's Edwardian drawing-roomgem Amoureuse with perhaps a hint of Franz Pola's For Love Of You (1931).
Tin Pan Alley is another rich seam for the Ladies Onlyensemble. Standards, like Seymour Simons' 1931 All of Me and Hoagy Carmichael'sStardust (1929), just a little square-sounding become virtual twins, while aless-than-orthodox perception of Jimmy McHugh's I'm in the Mood for Love (1935)introduces a lilting waltz and some interesting rhythmic contrasts. Jazz andbop items have distinctly classical overtones in Lars Kallin's obliquelyslanted transcriptions. Whereas Splanky (originally a Neal Hefti creation forbig band), Morgan Lewis' How High the Moon and Charlie Parker's Ornithologysound more soporific than their models, languid violins evoke the tone-paintingmood of Misty (although now best known by a 1959 No. 12 US pop chart song-hitversion by Johnny Mathis, it should be remembered that the best-selling 1954solo original featured by its creator, the 'Picasso of the Piano' ErrollGarner, was really a 'r?¬verie for piano').
By way of contrast, faster tempi are introduced with acouple of fine samples of theatre-land razzmatazz: Hello, Dolly, theme of the1964 smash-hit show by New York-born composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and, fromthe world of Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Barry Manilow, the pulsating ifersatz Copacabana (the Manilow 1978 top ten hit-tune that inspired his lessthan successful London show of 1994).
A programme to satisfy diners-out and diners-in alike - sosit back and enjoy!