Hot Club Sandwich – And If Only – www.hotclubsandwich.com, 46:20 *****:
Okay, here’s the thing. Of course, the major record labels have the resources and talent pool to create quality recordings, but for the most part, these recordings are the product of decision-making by committee and all too often are designed to appeal to the greatest number of people possible. An unkind way to put it is they are made to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I can understand this since they have to be always concerned with the bottom line.
But creativity can be a fragile thing and frequently needs a lot of room to grow and flex. And that’s the place for independent and small label recordings; they have the freedom to pursue whatever direction they can imagine and this sometimes delivers surprising and unexpected results. Hot Club Sandwich, a Gypsy Jazz group from Seattle, Washington, is a good example of this. Their latest CD, “And If Only,” deviates from their usual repertoire with excursions in Western Swing via Dan Hicks and even Mexican folk music (“Dueña De Mi Alma”). They do a fair number of jazz numbers, too, like “Hit That Jive, Jack” and a rousing Django-ized rendition of “St. Louis Blues” that features two hot solos by the superb mandolinist Matt Sircely. His playing manages to be at times both sensitive and fiery. He’s a musician to watch.
Most of the lead vocals are handled by Rich Sikorski, whose voice is perfectly suited to the material—low-key and soft in almost a murmur, but oh so melodic. His voice is a bit hard to describe, but very pleasant and listenable. Four of the songs feature guest vocalist Dan Hicks, whose distinctive voice and music carries elements of Swing, Jazz, and Country. Hicks is best known for Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, a cross-genre band he formed in the late 1960s, disbanded in 1973, and reformed in 1998. It’s still going, by the way.
Combining Gypsy Jazz and Western Swing, not to mention Mexican folk music, in one recording would give a big label record executive nightmares, but in the case of Hot Club Sandwich’s “And If Only,” it not only works, it’s also one the best recordings I’ve heard this year. Every track works and despite the variety of the material, it all works together as a whole. This is a truly delightful CD that I don’t get tired of or bored with; it’s fun, masterfully performed, and a total listening pleasure. It gets my highest recommendation.
TrackList: I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me; Hit That Jive Jack; J’Attendrai; New Orleans; Roughin’ It Smoothly; Cow Cow Boogie; Dueña De Mi Alma; St. Louis Blues; If I Had You; Déjà Vu; Calma El Aire; After You’ve Gone; And If Only.
– Hermon Joyner