The New Wonders

The New Wonders album coverYou can bet an album review is going to be positive when, by the time you read it, I’ve already learned to play parts of it on the piano. Such is the case with The New Wonders, the eponymous new record by Mike Davis’s NYC septet. “Reaching for Someone (And Not Finding Anyone There)”—with its winsome chromatic melody and finger-tapping triplets—quickly became one of those tunes I absent-mindedly hummed while driving or washing up. Very soon, I’d decided that I liked it enough to make it part of my own set list, having never heard any rendition but this one. (It was recorded by Paul Whiteman in 1929, it turns out.)

I usually listen to a record at least three times before sitting down to write about it: once to get a feel for it, a second time to decide whether or not I like it and a third time to take notes on it. Before I’d even penned a word about this fresh release, the CD was almost worn out. Unveiled just this month, it’s a truly addictive selection of dance hall classics, obscure rarities, and ancient movie themes delivered by a band which has the speakeasy sound down to a tee.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Mike Davis turned pro even before graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, appearing as sideman to Dandy Wellington, Glenn Crytzer, and Terry Waldo amongst others. He is a true devotee of 1920s style: the dress, the hair, and particularly the sound. His own outfit “craft[s] each song as if it were a 78 rpm record,” according to its website—and the results certainly reflect this approach. Lots of bands have managed to capture that big band swing vibe, successfully recreating the feel of the Savoy Ballroom circa 1935, but few emulate the gin joint bands of a decade earlier this accurately.

Of course this involves appropriate instrumentation and arrangements, as well as finding talented players who can keep to a feverish tempo while maintaining the coolly swinging, devil-may-care attitude of the flapper girl—all of which Davis has achieved here: the muted trumpets wail, the bass sax honks, and the drum kit tinkles like a toy. The mix avoids that busy, overproduced, everyone-to-the-front sound which some modern recordings suffer from, leading me to believe that recording was a one- or two-mic process. But it’s the voices which really put the icing on the cake: that peppy, precise method epitomized by Eddie Cantor—topped occasionally with the cherry of close harmony singing, barbershop style

The tunes chosen are all solid gold, grin-inducing numbers with foot-tapping rhythms, earworm melodies and often amusing lyrics. Besides “Reaching for Someone…”, other additions to my dah-de-dah repertoire include “Persian Rug” (Charley Straight Orchestra, 1928), “I’m Walking Between the Raindrops” (The Knickerbockers, 1928) and “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” (taken from a 1931 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon short). They’re delightful melodies which just ooze the character of a simpler time—and the only thing separating these versions from the originals is perhaps a bit of record hiss (and I’ve just seen that you can get it on vinyl, so that issue can be solved too).

UpBeat Records

If I’m perfectly honest, the music presented here falls a little way outside my core interests as a jazz fan: there’s more big band swing, British trad revival, and rhythm ’n’ blues in my vinyl collection than there is 1920s dance band stuff. But The New Wonders—with their exquisite The New Wonders—have broadened my interests and prompted me to keep a keener eye out for Paul Whiteman, Frankie Trumbauer, and Tiny Parham during my regular record shop raids. Find out more at

The New Wonders
The New Wonders

Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

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