Big band releases have seeming been few and far between this year in the bigger picture of new jazz releases. Why that is the case is anyone’s guess. Thankfully, with the year now being more than three and a half months old, at least one big band release has made its way to audiences. It came early last month in the form of Social Hour, the new record from Sean Nelson’s New London Big Band. The 17-member act’s 12-song record is a pleasing presentation for any big band fan. That is due in large part to its featured arrangements. They will be discussed shortly. While the record’s musical content forms a solid foundation for its presentation, its lack of any background on the songs detracts from the presentation at least to a point. It will be examined a little later. The record’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the presentation here. All things considered, they make the album a mostly successful presentation that any jazz aficionado.
Social Hour, the new studio recording from Sean Nelson’s New London Big Band, is a welcome addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums. Its success comes in large part through its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are almost all originals. That in itself is great. The only noticeable cover featured in the record is that of Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s timeless classic ‘When You Wish Upon A Star.’ This cover is in itself so enjoyable because the group gives the typically reserved composition a much needed and welcome shot in the arm with its swing approach. The horn flourishes and the cymbal crashes pair with the light guitar line make for such a unique approach that actually proves far better than the original, believe it or not.
On a completely different note, the original, ‘Countin’ Freckles’ is a great throwback to the big band sounds of the 1950s and 60s. The gentle horn section, the even more subtle use of the brushes on the snare and the accompanying woodwinds immediately conjures thoughts of the big bands that would take to the stages ages ago, the musicians lined up in rows, lights shining on them as they play. The bass line is just as prominent even in its simplicity while the drum fills are handled just right, never going over the top. The whole makes the song a great retro type work that will take listeners back in time, even being in the 21st century.
On a completely separate note, the group goes full modern in the late entry, ‘Freaks In Mayberry.’ The group uses a big band swing here, but at the same time, the bizarre sounds from the guitar and the more modern beats from the drums makes this composition a fully unique composition. The unique piano line here adds to that modern feel and makes the song all the more engaging and intriguing, as do the horns. The balance of those modern leanings and the more big band sounds makes the song in whole among the most unique presentations here and shows even more, the importance of the album’s musical arrangements. When it and the other songs examined here are considered along with the rest of the record’s works, the whole leaves no doubt that the musical content featured in the record is of the utmost importance.
While the overall musical content that makes up the body of Social Hour forms a solid foundation for the album’s presentation, the record is not perfect. Considering the variety of styles and sounds presented within each composition, it would certainly have been interesting to know the background on the songs’ creation. Sadly, the liner notes that accompany the content offer no background on the songs. The only information provided here is the background on the album’s creation and that of the New London Big Band. This critic has pointed out multiple times that any time any act creates a fully instrumental track and/or album, background on the songs is needed. That is so as to more fully immerse listeners in said content and in turn lead to more appreciation for said songs. That is because it helps listeners to more fully understand the inspiration behind the songs. Not having that background is not enough to make the songs/albums failures, but it certainly does help increase the appreciation to have that content. So to that end, yes, this is a negative to the presentation, but is not enough to doom the record.
Keeping in mind everything examined so far, there is still one item to examine in looking at the record’s bigger picture. That item is the record’s production. From one song to the next, the record’s production brings out the best in each composition. The horns compliment the woodwinds. The drums and bass compliment the other just as well while at the same time, complimenting the harmonies from the horns and woodwinds just as well. From the bigger swing moments to the more experimental, to the more relaxed moments, each song is expertly produced, ensuring the overall general effect wins in its own right. The result of the attention to that detail throughout makes the album overall just as engaging and entertaining for its aesthetics as for its content. All things considered, the album proves to be a presentation that while imperfect is still well worth hearing any time.
Social Hour, the new album from Sean Nelson’s New London Big Band, is a largely successful new offering from the 17-member musical collective. The record stands out in part because of its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements stand out because at some points, they take audiences back to a bygone era. At others they offer something distinctly modern. There is also one notable cover in here that is a welcome update of said song. The overall presentation of the songs makes for a solid foundation for the record. As much as the album’s musical content does to make this album appealing, the lack of any background on the songs detracts from the overall listening experience. It is not enough to make the album a failure, but would have been a big help to have had included in the record. The production puts the finishing touch to the record’s presentation. It ensures the best is brought out of each instrument and balances each with its counterparts. Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make Social Hour a record that any jazz and big band fan will find himself or herself enjoying for hours.
Social Hour is available now through Summit Records. More information on the album is available along with all of the band’s latest news at:
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