I trust Bryan Ferry. He has impeccable taste and is consistently imaginative. So when word came down that his new album would consist of a baker’s dozen of his Roxy Music and solo songs re-arranged in the ’20s jazz style of early groups spearheaded by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and King Oliver, and presented as instrumentals, I was psyched.
The shock came when The Jazz Age arrived and I put it on for the first time. Not only does it sound like Ferry’s songs are being played by some long-lost tuxedo-clad group from the ’20s, but it sounds like it was recorded in the ’20s, too. It’s in mono and there’s a veil of distortion over everything that makes the CD sound like a vintage 78! Is that a good thing? I’m not sure.
I love, love, love the arrangements—“Just Like You” is a torchy delight; “Avalon” has been transformed into a classic Dixieland trumpet-trombone-clarinets battle, with the parts interweaving in an exciting dance; “Slave to Love” is a bopping, finger-snappin’ jaunt propelled by a muted trumpet and mellow saxes; “The Only Face” is a steamy slow dance; “Love is the Drug” is almost unrecognizable at first—it sounds like Ellington’s hit “The Mooche”—then falls together with the familiar chorus; and you’ve definitely never heard Roxy’s first hit, “Virginia Plain,” sound so champagne-bubbly. Kudos to Colin Good for the splendid arrangements, which blend horns and woodwinds so convincingly in this older style, and construct rhythm beds using a combination of banjo, guitar, piano, bass and drums. There are also some effective strings.
It’s a testament to the strength of Ferry’s writing—his way with melody—that his voice is not missed on this album. (In fact, in my mind I can sometimes hear him singing along, crooner-style.) But I think I would have preferred a more modern recording approach, with greater clarity and a nice stereo spread, along the lines of The Cotton Club film soundtrack back in the mid-’80s. Taken for what it is, however, The Jazz Age is just about perfect, including the stylish package featuring period illustrations by the great Paul Colin.
Produced by Bryan Ferry and Rhett Davies. Recorded and mixed by Davies and Simon Willey. Recorded at Studio One, Olympia (London). Mastered by Bob Ludwig.