The long awaited third album from what can only be called a swing revival supergroup is finally here. Recorded last summer at the Minneapolis Uptown Swing Out, this live take on Naomi and Her Handsome Devils is already being played at DJ’d events and dance classes all over the world.
An instant hit, but how could it miss. The front line is Jonathan Doyle from Seattle, Gordon Au from New York City, and Charlie Halloran from New Orleans. The rhythm section is Jake Sanders from Chicago, Jared Engel out of Brooklyn, Dalton Ridenhour from Missouri but now in New York, and Josh Collazo from LA.
If you’ve been reading this paper awhile those are all names you’ve heard before, either as leaders or members of the best traditional jazz and swing groups going. Past albums have included Mike Davis and Adrian Cunningham. This is what is called on the festival circuit a reunion band but the Handsome Devils reunite a number of times a year at major swing events on at least three continents.
The Devils are led by Naomi Uyama a vocalist easily their match in musicality. She’s also an international swing dance champion and an instructor with a great sense of what dancing crowds want. When discussing the origin of this live album she wrote:
“It’s always been important to me to not distract from my great musicians with antics or turn the night into a rock concert when in fact it’s a swing dance. In a way I have wanted the band to be in the background, just there to facilitate your great night of dancing. But if you can have a great night to a DJ, and I’m so grateful that DJs already play our music, WHY should anyone bother seeing us live?”
The answer may not be put into words but it is laid out in an album that delivers a taste of the live chemistry between a band and a riotous dance floor to your living room or weekend workshop. The band distinguishes themselves with new arrangements of classics rather than transcriptions from the greats. With top flight musicians like these you know they’ll never run out of good ideas. They took the best cuts from a two night stand and ordered them for narrative flow, kicking off the album with the one original by Naomi, “Gone So Long”. It fits right in.
Many of the songs are familiar but none are overplayed. “Sweet Sue” early in the album draws you into their orbit. By halfway through the sing along “L.O.V.E.” has you right in the room. It seems to be the favorite of most listeners so far. “I’m Crazy About My Baby” is another hit with fans excited enough to be discussing the album track by track. .
The band is unmatched in this style, a crisp classic style all their own. Capable of fireworks they instead slide into your unconscious and get your feet where they need to be. Towards the end of the set “Wishing and Crying For You” was my favorite. It highlights all the best elements of the band; killer horn section, unstoppable rhythm, and intricate vocal delivery. They deserve all the applause they’ve been getting.