Sometimes things just fit in perfectly. In this case, Syncopation Society Berlin and The Syncopated Times. Based on the Society’s initial promotional sampler, it is truly a perfect fit! They don’t simply present and play a certain set of musical genres- American roots music, blues, traditional jazz, and swing, there is a greater concept around which the Berlin musical collective is built.
And the terms society and collective are not used in vain. As Flo, one of the Society’s organizers told Deutche Welle (the German international radio service), the Society is a true collective of bands, DJ’s, special acts like cabaret and dancers, and an audio-visual project called “Living Cartoon Duet”. The Society is an “all-in-one-project”; musicians, acts, concert organizers and promoters, a record company, producers and managers. Of course, the focus is on the music, and the many bands involved often exchange players or even have joint gigs and recording sessions.
The Society’s first promotional sampler was released on Bandcamp last Autumn, there is an evident synergy among the artists involved, as well as an obvious knowledge, understanding and feel for the music they are involved in, with enough spark to go beyond just playing it well.
Listening to the thirteen tracks on offer, there isn’t a single one that musically or stylistically lags behind, something rare among promotional samplers. Three of the tracks are live recordings, showcasing the Society’s success at organizing live events – from birthday and dance parties to special live shows. Of the three live tracks, two, Lord Youth’s “Someone Was Singing Hi Ho Silver” and Whiskey Soda’s “Smack Dab In The Middle” could have benefited from better production values, which might have something to do with the venues and recording possibilities, but that may be the only negative point of the sampler.
On the other hand, everything else here deserves big thumbs up. From the excellent swing opener “24 Robbers” by New Orleans transplant Meschiya Lake, to an inspired version of “St. Louis Blues” by The Dizzy Birds that incorporates elements of Raymond Scott’s compositional style, to the Manouche of Tcha-Badjo’s “After You’ve Gone” and the closing slow balladry of “Nightbirds” by the Haferlococken Swingers.
That cooperative feel is on display on “Sweet Lotus Blossom”, a tango-turned-swing joint track featuring Meschiya Lake with The Dizzy Birds, while the live track “Choo Choo Boogie” by The Blue Mingos truly shows the excitement Society members exert live.
Still, the best tracks on the Sampler are those that are able to combine styles that seemingly do not belong together. The Dirty Honkers and their “Gingerbread Man” are able to combine Gypsy Jazz, fast-paced swing moves and modern production values with thumping bass and drums to come up with a track that can certainly ignite the dance floor. This Berlin trio obviously doesn’t shy away from exploratory music, their album Self Portrait in 3 Colors bringing to mind jazz giant Charles Mingus.
While Lord Youth’s live track might have benefited from better production, the band’s other track on the sampler, “Haunted Radio”, really lives up to its name. It sounds like a Thirties horror movie score. Including sounds from an instrument that Italian score master Ennio Morricone might have used. All it needs is the hiss of a distant radio station. Lord Youth is actually New York musician Micah Blaichman, who has spent quite some time in Europe, including Copenhagen and Berlin, recording in attics and playing junk cabaret. He has an album and two singles under his belt.
Not that the tracks by California Feetwarmers, The Musicomaniacs or The Ragtime Nightmare need to be overlooked in any way, they are prime examples of how you can recreate music from different eras and still make it sound alive and fresh without a need to resort to archive recordings.
What the Syncopation Society Berlin’s Promotional Sampler Vol. 1 shows is that innovation and thinking outside the box can fit in perfectly with music genres that are generally considered backward looking. Recreating genres that still have popularity decades after they were first introduced and not shying away from mixing them up and introducing innovations all seems to grow from a nurturing feel of creative mutual support among the musicians, promoters, and others involved. Hopefully, this is just the beginning Syncopation Society Berlin.