The Gramophoniacs present themselves in suit clothes, but not in an overtly vintage style, noddingly so only in the choice of cut. They are one of the most uniformly stylish swing bands I can think of. Many band leaders want a clean-cut crew but usually someone in the band seems halfhearted about it, not here.
Together since at least 2013 this German band usually appears as a five piece but for their first album they have filled out to seven. Two bassists rotate, each getting about half the tracks. None of the names are familiar to me so these guys may stick tightly together rather than freelancing to many other groups. An exception could be trombonist Jonas Jung, who their website kids for his busyness.
They took the creation of their first album seriously. Guitarist Paul Baureis tells me, “We tried to take as much of an old school approach as possible concerning the recording situation. We recorded this all within two days at our pianists living room with basically one single ribbon-mic in the center of the band.” The professional sound at the end of the mixing process is a testament to how accessible recording has become.
In an era of EPs and singles Underground Swingtapes is a generous twenty tracks and 73 minutes. As you might expect from the first release of a band with an established in person following they include the danceable hits they’ve succeeded with in Germany’s large Lindy Hop scene, including essentials like “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”.
Intentional or not, perhaps influenced by the Band’s mascot, a black cat, much of the album by virtue of track selection would be great for the Halloween season. “Everyone Wants to be a Cat”, and “Headless Horseman” being the most obvious, but tracks like “Minnie the Moocher” also have that vibe. There’s something about swing era story songs. Somber material like “It Could Have Been (Very, Very Beautiful”) deviate from the danceability into contemplation, an interlude in live performance that provides a rest even dancing at home.
That self awarely dark inflection carries into the covers on the album. “Tango Till Their Sore” is a Tom Waits song I’ve always thought deserved a swinging cover, I will say this isn’t what I hear in my head but I’m glad they picked it up. The re-arrangement needs to be more thorough to unleash the jazz heat cooped up in the original. They also cover a Pokey Lafarge hit and the Star Wars “Cantina Song”, they have the pulse of their audience and a willingness to please.
They play very cleanly, without any pretension to the soloing I’m sure they are capable of. The arrangements put dancers first while maintaining enough interest to keep wallflowers engaged. They sing in English, with slight accents so appropriate to the material that I never thought of them as a European band while listening. This breakout album, released early in the Covid pandemic, has brought the band much deserved attention. They graced the cover of a German music mag under the headline “Swing is King.” They have the polish and foresight to make it so.
Gramophoniacs • Underground Swingtapes