As anyone who’s read one of my reviews will know, I love a good keyboardist. Well, if I were naming The Schwings Band’s new album myself, I could hardly have given it a better title than A Good Thing. It’s a piano-powered masterpiece of mostly original jazz, from the Lithuanian outfit led by bandleader/composer Remis Rančys.
Recording during many musicians’ darkest hour, Rančys (whose music is often inspired by current events) acknowledges the present pandemic lyrically—then boots it down the road with hobnailed feet.
Opening track “Everybody” gets two outings on this disc: the first at a dance-friendly tempo, straight out of the gate; the second as an encore, lightning-fast. Pianist Richardas Banys starts the album off strong, rolling elements of barrelhouse, blues and boogie-woogie into this solid swing number. Periodic shouts of “Everybody!” sets the in-it-together tone for the rest of the work, which just insists that you stop moping around and move your feet.
“Staying Home” captures the monotony of COVID life in its repetitive, three-note riff, but sets this to a playfully upbeat backing—it’s the sort of swing anthem we need, when live gigs and social dances seem a million miles away. “Eik Sau” takes the energy down a notch, combining Banys’s bluesy organ and Rančys’s deep, throaty saxophone to create the calming sensation of a deep, waveless ocean. (There’s even something pleasantly ASMR about the audible thwack of Rančys’s sax keys.)
It’s a brief respite before dance-friendly “Good Thing” takes this disc back into party territory. “Music is a good thing, and it’s better when we dance,” the players sing together—they’re nothing if not persistent. Banys evokes both Scott Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis here, with playing which leaps deftly from ragtime to rock ’n’ roll. Johnny Green and Gus Khan’s “I’ve Got a Heavy Date” is the one actual classic in this collection, with Rančys’s airy and optimistic vocal soaring over Banys’s solid stride.
But it’s the originals which really stand out here. “Marytė Mėlynakė” begins with a big nod to “When I Get Low I Get High,” before evolving into a culture-crossing curiosity rich in Balkan folk motifs, to which Rančys croons Lithuanian lyrics. Banys contributes staccato stabs of the keys, leaving Denis Murašov’s double bass to do much of the work. And then there’s “Desmond from Stardust,” a swinging lullaby with twinkling ivories, which prepares dancers for the album’s frantic finale.
“Music is the best thing ever,” these lighthearted Lithuanians sing on A Good Thing’s title track. Well, Schwings, you certainly make a great case for it—especially when there’s so much gloom to distract us from what’s really important. Find them on Bandcamp, where you can grab the best antiviral medicine available right now.