Electro Swing seems to have been mooted for some time as being the next big thing but so far hasn’t had the lasting commercial clout that it promised, despite the odd hit which have had the smack of novelty about them. Acts like Caro Emerald, Caravan Palace and Yolanda Be Cool have been flying the flag for this fusion of jazz and swing with modern music The BBC did not help matters by imposing on us in 2015 an Electro Swing track as the UK entry for the Eurovision Song contest which ended up near the bottom of the scoreboard in 24th place and probably put paid to any “cool” factor suggested by the best examples of this musical style. There are certainly strong elements of Electro Swing in this new album release by Austrian musician Waldeck, his fifth studio album in a career which has spanned 22 years since his first EP release “Northern Lights.”
I had never heard of Waldeck before being contacted regarding the release of “Atlantic Ballroom” on Dope Noir Records last month. I was asked about the possibility of a review and I thought I’d take a listen to see if it could be the album to revitalise my Music Now Section which I have neglected as the amount of new music I am listening to is diminishing. It didn’t take long to see that it really does fit into the reviewsrevues brief and to ignore it would be missing out on a good thing. This is a successful marriage of electronic dance music and trip hop elements with jazz, blues, swing and latin influences. I’ve actually always been a bit of a sucker for retro music presented in a modern style. In fact, one of the first singles I ever bought was “Looks Looks Looks” by Sparks which had the feel of forties swing in a quirky rock song and since then Manhattan Transfer, Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Kid Creole, Madonna’s “I’m Breathless” album and , Caro Emerald amongst others have all ensured that this kind of mix is never too far from my music playlists. It can be cheesy, it can be cool, but the very best combines the two, doesn’t take itself that seriously and would lift the mood of any dance floor. I can’t help thinking that Waldeck is only one guest appearance on “Strictly” or having music used in a TV ad campaign away from really breaking into the big time.
The ace up Klaus Waldeck’s sleeve here is the featured singer who appears on half of the twelve tracks, Patrizia Ferrara, half Sicilian, half Austrian chanteuse who drips coolness onto her tracks in vocals recall some great blues and jazz artists. There’s also three largely instrumental tracks, two songs featuring long-time collaborator vocalist Joy Malcolm (formerly from Incognito) and one featuring fellow Austrian Big John Whitfield.
On the piano led opener “Rough Landing” Ferrara’s vocals are conveyed with the cool style and sass not seen since the under-rated Lina’s 2001 track “Playa No More”. There’s also a feel of The Propellerheads work with Shirley Bassey and their “History Repeating”. Good instrumental solos reinforce this track’s jazz credibility and the whole thing sets out the store for the album, even if not one of the stand-outs.
I really have come to like the 2 and a half minute instrumental “Uno Dos.. Heissenberg”. It holds its sixties credentials high and feels like a forgotten theme tune from a 60’s ITC Entertainment show- “Man In A Suitcase” meets “Austin Powers” with its downright grooviness merged with ethereal voices. This is a track I would have liked to have gone on longer building to some massive crescendo of Carnaby Street influenced style, as it is it just tends to fizzle out. The 60s feel continues for “Keep The Fire Burning” with vocalist Joy Malcolm turning out a Stax-type track with stabbing brass and Hammond organ flourishes. Although I do like this track it is the one which perhaps feel a little out of step with what else is on the album.
Patrizia Ferrara returns with four tracks which contain some of the real highspots of the album, getting under the skin with a Billie Holiday style vocal on a track with a real Cab Calloway feel in “Stay Put”, a slinky Henry Mancini “Pink Pantherish” intro to “Quicksand”which is a classy and well-structured song that again recalls Holiday and also in the phrasing some of the recent Doris Day stuff especially her 2011 track “Heaven Tonight”. “Illusions” ups the Latin feel and with its distorted electric guitar and bass licks has a feel of 80’s Jazz-Funk over the bossa-nova style rhythms. Best of all is the almost Charleston feel of “Never Let You Go” which sounds the most like a potential hit single on here. The lyrics don’t matter but there is a lovely vocal performance which has shades of Peggy Lee at her perkiest. With “Me No Americano” being such a big hit a couple of years back and also Caro Emerald establishing a world-wide reputation with a similar sound that there is still great commercial potential lurking here.
The second instrumental is let down by that over-used sound gimmick of the scratched record. I’m of the age where crackles were always a huge disappointment on a vinyl album and yet we still seem to have to listen to it in a digital format. There’s not much going on in “Puerto Rico” other than the title repeated but its Latin grooves has more than a touch of Camila Cabello’s recent chart-topper “Havana”. In this format it doesn’t hold my attention as much as many of the other tracks. More successful, even if equally familiar in its sound is the Latin swing of “Quando” which has a feel of Rosemary Clooney and is imbued with a great sense of warmth which makes the combination of Latin rhythms and European oompah band seem a valid proposition.
“Bring My Baby Back Home” seems the most novelty like with its “King of The Swingers” feel merged with Scatman John and his lunatic but highly likeable “Scatman’s World”. There’s also a touch of LunchMoney Lewis and his recent hit “Bills”. It won’t be long before you are “dub-dibby-dibby-dub-dub-ing” along and recreating the Charleston and Black Bottom dance at the Office Christmas party. If this all sounds too cheesy it has an optimistic cheeriness which has won me over.
The cheesiness is short-lived as “Waltz For Nathalie” is a mature instrumental which brings to mind Swing Out Sister’s “Kaelidoscope Affair”, which I have always loved. This has a strikingly mournful ending which feels like a suggestion of darkness looming on the horizon, noticeable on an album with such little darkness and so much optimism, but fear not as it eases into the handclapping uplift of “Freedom” the second of the two Joy Malcolm helmed tracks which feels like a club anthem with effective electro-swing touches.
One of the phrases I feel I’ve used quite often in this review is “brings to mind”. That would suggest that “Atlantic Ballroom” is not the most original of albums but it is the wealth and variety of these “bring to minds” which makes it a compelling listen. Waldeck has synthesized a lot of musical history into these twelve tracks and produced an album which feels positive and invigorating. With so much Top 40 stuff now sounding the same (am I sounding like my father again?) it is good to see releases which challenge the status quo of electronic dance music and tropical vibes to offer something which feels different and fresh and yet reassuringly familiar.
Atlantic Ballroom is currently available to buy from Amazon in the UK for £16.04 new, used from £9,65 and as a download for £7.99. It is also available to stream from Spotify in the UK.