The Jazz Age is a step back to the classic jazz era of the 1920s. By re-recording hits with top jazz musicians, Bryan Ferry has given a new sound to his back catalogue and the album includes hits such as "Don't Stop the Dance"; and "Slave to Love". As featured on The Great Gatsby Soundtrack, this is the sound of the Roaring 20's.
It’s not uncommon now for artists of stature to rework standout moments from their canon. Recently Jeff Lynne revisited ELO’s catalogue, and Tori Amos re-recorded old songs with an orchestra. Some deem such moves a lazy admission that fresh ideas have expired; others relish seeing masterpieces in new light.
Yet Bryan Ferry, never averse to a re-make/re-model (as his lifelong parallel career as a covers-crooner of ‘ready-mades’ has established), has cooked up something completely unexpected and unprecedented here. Not least because he doesn’t sing on it.
The Jazz Age is an instrumental set in which numbers spanning from Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain to Reason or Rhyme from most recent solo album Olympia are radically reimagined. Some are only faintly recognisable. His hits and cult items are fashioned as they might have been in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, or the Gatsby ballrooms of F. Scott Fitzgerald (a poster-boy of doomed romanticism to whom Ferry has never struggled to relate).
Names like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and Duke Ellington will be bandied around. In fairness to Ferry, this isn’t a dilettante detour: he has always, since the time of Roxy’s 1972 debut, when it was far from cool to do so, named these artists as influences.
Now with musical director Colin Good (who oversaw the 1999 standards album, As Time Goes By) arranging, another Ferry fantasy world emerges. Such is the devotion and sincerity (and musicianship) that it’s not an ‘easy’ listen at all: the once supremely-stylised Do the Strand is now loose and freeform, while Avalon wafts blithely in and out of its melody.
Love Is the Drug sounds completely transformed without its bass hook, yet still wickedly alluring; Slave to Love becomes a strangely jaunty jitterbug. There is cheek as well as chic here. Yet, crucially, as the pining Just Like You (his most underrated song) displays, that trademark air of desire remains.
A peculiar concept then, with Ferry now, almost Warhol-like, sagely mute to one side while collaborators silkscreen his own icons. As fascinating as it is perplexing, anything but obvious, and therefore to be applauded.
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