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The Widespread Jazz Orchestra


The Widespread Jazz Orchestra, April 25 at the Charles Hotel.

Today's Yuppie-led America is renewing its partiality towards the conservative, the traditional and the finely-crafted. One can see it in the shorter hair cuts, increasing familial aspirations and higher-priced ice cream stores that embody the MIT/Cambridge surroundings. The Widesspread Jazz Orchestra, a sendback to the big bands of the 1930's and 40's, fits in perfectly with the new trend.

Surprisingly, the Orchestra didn't jump on the bandwagon when Benny Goodman and Linda Ronstadt's "What's New" found younger, appreciative audiences. This group was organized well over ten years ago and possesses the maturity and feel for the swing genre, and technique to prove it.

From a thick folder of rehearsed tunes, the Widespread Orchestra chose selections by the moment, including "Sometimes I'm Happy, Sometimes I'm Blue," "V.I.P." and guitarist Django Reinhardt's "Tears." Like premium ice creams, the ensemble's performance was consistently smooth and full-bodied. Well put-together arrangements by members of the group contributed to making the Widespread Jazz Orchestra sound bigger then their 10 pieces. The pair of horn players completed glissandos and "screeches" (really high notes, for trumpeters) without fault. The band's consistency was perhaps their greatest asset.

Predictability might have been a liability, however. The band certainly enjoyed bringing back the traditional sounds of earlier years. In fact, they hardly used their compositional skills other then to imitate the identities of famous predecessors (i.e. Duke Ellington and Count Basie, etc.), making the performance bland at times. One reason is that light swing jazz is a very subtle art form, consisting of "under-playing," and an internal feeling of the rhythm (no funk bass, heavy-handed drums here). For those unfamiliar with this style, it offers little of the high-powered energy of contemporary music.

As for the setting: the Charles Hotel's Reggata Bar may have also hurt the performance. The lounge, geared towards single-socializing and light drinking, was not "an appreciative home for real jazz," one saxophonist commented. "It's tough to find clubs to perform swing in Boston." That the evening's soloists could muster up the energy and urgency they did was admirable.

Resurgence of swing or no, the Widespread Jazz Orchestra will continue to perform for nostalgists and newcomers at such attractions as New York's Bottom Line, Washington D.C.'s Blues Alley, the Montreaux Jazz Festival and on "Alive at 5." They have recently added a female vocalist and put out their sixth album, "Paris Blues" (CBS/Columbia Records). My advice, though, is to catch the group (in a more appropriate setting), conservative thin ties, traditional pin stripe suits, tight sound and all in person.

Scott Lichtman->