In Chaise Lounge’s seventh album, there’s swoonworthy original music, a timely reference to downloadable lyrics and chords, and a recipe for Gin Fizz Fandango (provided by the band’s bassist, Pete Ostle). Gin Fizz Fandango also happens to be the title track of a new album, released on Sept. 10, 2015 (Modern Songbook Records).
This is no ordinary jazz album. This is what they call a “cheeky” character album full of flirty flights of fancy perpetrated by musicians who take on the air of guys and dolls in a ballroom brawl — all in good fun.
The D.C. sextet features Charlie Barnett on guitar and piano, vocalist Marilyn Older, bassist Pete Ostle, percussionist Tommy Barrick, trombonist Joe Jackson, and reed man Gary Gregg. Barnett, a film composer, wrote 11 of the 12 songs, save for Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me.” Older plays piano on two tracks.
Chaise Lounge has been around since 1999, when the musicians jammed together at one of Barnett’s recording sessions. Ever since, they’ve jammed all over the country on the strength of a tight rhythm section, limber horn players, and the sweet, Betty Boop vocal style of Older.
The music is as retro-hip — think the Depression and the Prohibition, circa 1920-‘30s — as it gets, gently swinging, a little tongue-in-cheek in the hopscotch lyrics, tickling traces of a forgotten soundtrack from another era, even daring in places (a horn vocalese from the actual “Hopscotch”).
The overall vibe does feel like sipping on a fizzy cocktail, the bubbles tickling your nose, whether trombonist Jackson slides in on a slinky tango throughout the “Gin Fizz Fandango” instrumental or Older swinging on a pop song like “You,” where the lyrics go down as easy as the spring in the step of the horn players.
“You’s” particularly fetching for its cute, clever use of tempo to swing fast and slow, to a tantalizing crawl on the bridge home (“here’s where we end once we circle again, let’s drive real slow breathing in as we go”). Older also does quite a nice rap over the swizzle stick of horns at the 3/4th mark without faltering or needing a breather: “You accidentally brush my leg, and I go falling hard again, all you have to do is breathe your perfect love inside of me.”
Chaise Lounge isn’t a sit-and-listen band. The musicians play serious retro-dance grooves, the kind that would give the “Dancing With The Stars” cast a serious workout. Listen and bust out the moves on “Mambo Noir.” Be silly with the children tip-toeing around in a game of Hide-and-Seek on “Pigs In Blankets.” Slow-waltz in a timeless haze on “If I Never Get To Paris,” mostly on trombonist Joe Jackson and pianist Charlie Barnett’s melodic lines. Do the tap-dance shuffle with grandpa on “Celestial Navigation.” Older scat-hums (la-da-da-da-da-dum) through this gem of a closer.
Lest you assume it’s all fun and games over at Chaise Lounge’s Gin Fizz Fandango, the band turns down the lights for the grim emotional reaper, “I See You.” Older turns up the lonely, still sweet but sweetly aching for the fulfillment of real recognition “when the world looks the other way, I look in your eyes and say, ‘I see you.’” This one’s pure vocals, pure bliss, with the musicians mostly keeping time and exacerbating the loneliness and fear — pianist Barnett pressing urgency in only a handful of chords over and over, bassist Ostle illuminating the darkness, Gregg sampling a taste of that exquisite agony on his sax.
The true test of a remarkable band is its schedule. Chaise Lounge’s is jam-packed. The next performance is 8 p.m. March 4 at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, Md., then 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 6 at Blues Alley in D.C.
Last night we played our first show at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria, Virginia. We felt like we had come home! The art-deco stage seemed custom-made to set off our sharp suits. The sound in the room was terrific. And the audience was the perfect mix of drinkers, dancers, and attentive listeners, with no group seeming to impose its mode on any of the others. Thanks to the Carlyle for a memorable night! We’re hoping to be back soon.
Jazz seems to thrive in cities, and though we long ago abandoned the strictures of being just a “jazz band,” we still think of ourselves as urban creatures. Our Vermont tour this month challenged that. In the Green Mountain State, we found dirt roads, lakes, and fresh air—and of virtually no cellphone reception to remind us of big-city pressures. What a change! What a blessing! We played to tents and clubs full of Vermonters wearing overalls and Birkenstocks. We ate fantastic local cheese and drank Hill Farmstead beer. We slept under homemade quilts. And after we played the Village Green in Greensboro, we got recognized at Willey’s, the deli-hardware-gun-fishing-tackle-and-tractor-supply store. At the end of the tour, we six city slickers all agreed: we can’t wait to go back to Vermont.
A lot of people ask us about our suits: Where on Earth do we find them? There is no major mystery to this. We all have eBay alerts set up for “vintage men’s suit” in our sizes. And each of us has a good tailor—except for Tommy, who has his own sewing machine and an impressive set of sartorial chops. So for $50 on eBay plus a few nips and tucks, you can look like a million bucks. And if someone in the band orders a cool vintage suit that shows up in the completely wrong size, he brings it to rehearsal and someone else can usually wear it.
The only problem comes when a vintage suit is not quite as cool as eBay made it out to be. Take the specimen at right. It was sold to Charlie as a green sharkskin suit. When it arrived a couple of weeks ago, it was discovered to be off-white, with a sort of basketweave texture, and disturbingly rich in polyester content. It actually seemed to be made of the same material as Charlie’s Aunt Cena’s sofa. There is no tailor in the world that can make this right, Charlie thought—and the band concurred. None of the other guys would go near it.
But a loss for Chaise Lounge is a win for Purple Heart. They’ll pick it up next week. And we only hope the suit eventually finds its way to the musical act it was meant for.