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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Tuesday, 18 December 2018 03:04

Bryan Ferry And His Orchestra - Bitter-Sweet

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Strange delights with Bryan Ferry and his Orchestra.

In 2012, Bryan Ferry under the guise of The Bryan Ferry Orchestra made a sideways move by re-recording some of his back catalogue in the jazz styles of the 1920s.

The Jazz Age was well received overall, but some shrugged their shoulders as it was vocal free instrumental affair. There were a few audiences with the man himself at his plush Olympia HQ and the world moved on, as it does. However the movie director Baz Luhrmann liked what he heard and commissioned Ferry to provide a chunk of tunes for his high profile remake of The Great Gatsby.  Further momentum followed with Ferry's cabaret cameo in the Netflix Weimar Republic drama, Berlin Babylon. Ferry enjoyed this experience so much that he has revisited 13 of his songs, 8 with vocals and remade and smudged them with echoes of Ellington, Armstrong and Weill; Working with a 13 piece band and string section it’s a dark and lush sequel to The Jazz Age.

Alphaville gets off to a strident start. The private members club mating call of the original slides easily into it’s new but retro furnishings. It’s like the disco’s mirror ball has been ousted by a chandelier. The tempo is chorus line clipped and it works.  Reason or Rhyme dips hushed and unruffled with the banjo’s twang into an instrumental version of Sign Of The Times. The original tune is unrecognizable, but it showcases the completeness of the orchestra sound. The album itself sounds like its recorded in mono for authenticity but never sounds flat. Brass pops up like sandflies and Ferry’s voice has tactile grain in the mix. 

The Ferry vocal style, its peculiarity dimmed by its familiarity, lacks the vigour of his pomp years, but in no way diminishes its presence  Dark as black velvet, all-knowing and in places, sinister. The title track, a rework of the Country Life original, is made over as a taunting cabaret tune. The Bogus Man waltzing with Kurt Weill, you almost smell the fug of cigarette smoke.  While My Heart’s Still Beating off Avalon, with its nods to Hodges & Bechet, and without its original studio vapour, is Ferry at his most bruised. It's one of the stand out versions.

Dance Away, the biggest hit of the songs included, double takes the ear as a jolly bandstand instrumental with an almost bank holiday air.  Zamba is another deft rework. The deep pile synth sound of the original is replicated with strings and Ferry sounds more present the second time around.   

Darkness returns in the closing double bill of Chance Meeting and Boys & Girls. Chance Meeting always had a self-conscious retro feel to it and fits easily. Its detached, spooky slo-mo mood is unbroken, the strings taking over at the fade out. Boys & Girls is an ominous waltz. Absent of studio veneer the lyrics are pushed into the front row. ‘And who is that crying in the street, Death is the friend I’ve yet to meet’.  Ferry heads to the exit, his work done.

Bitter-Sweet is fastidious and curious  and all of a piece and a reminder, if so needed why Bryan Ferry at his best is one of the best.

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