By: Joe Bebco, The Syncopated Times
Syncopated Times readers will remember Svetlana from her hot band The Delancy Five, who are a staple of the New York traditional jazz scene and had an award winning album, A Night at the Speakeasy, in 2015. She takes a more theatrical approach, (cough cough), on her new album, Night at the Movies, but the swing is still there.
Svetlana describes herself as “Russian-by-birth American-by-Music” and for her, a big part of finding American music was going to a movie house, wonderfully named “The Illusionist”. Their she dreamt of what then seemed like impossibilities. In tribute to that part of her this new album is compiled of songs from movies, often reverted into a classic jazz style.
“Cheek to Cheek”, Pinnochio‘s “When You Wish Upon a Star”, “Smile” from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and the closing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” are from the jazz era, if not jazz songs. All the other titles are credited to movies released after 1960, the most recent being Coco from 2017. Some of them, like Sting’s “Moonlight” were jazz in the original production. The solitary track from a Soviet-era Russian film is a haunting beauty. All are played in arrangements that could place them anywhere from the 40s on and fit Svetlana’s sense of time and presentation.
She booked an extensive all-star large band for the album, as many as 13 members when the string section is engaged. Familiar names are Wycliffe Gordon, who shares some vocals, Rob Garcia, and Jon-Erik Kellso. They just had an album release party and a national tour is planned to support it.
If all this makes you worry she’s signed onto a label bent on ruining her, have no fear. Despite having Grammy-winning producers behind the project and professional arrangers at her side the end result is not far removed from Night at the Speakeasy. Svetlana has her own style and if you share both her love of jazz and appreciation of super sappy movie songs you’ll love this album.
The title choices are intended to evoke the sense of fantasy and getting lost movies inspire. The arrangements reimagine the material so completely, and some of the tracks are so obscure to begin with, that half the fun is identifying the original source. “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is easy, and maybe “It Might Be You” from Tootsie, but what about “Watch What Happens”?
The long friendship and playfulness between Svetlana and Gordon is evident in an Ella/Louis duet on “Cheek to Cheek”. The kick it up a notch on a duet version of Pharrell’s ubiquitous “Happy”, done in high stepping style. Some of this material had to be wrestled into the jazz format but the whole thing is such a big theatrical blast that it fits. Svetlana is having a ball, if her tour comes near you it’s a guaranteed good time.