J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band

Underneath a Brooklyn Moon

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It isn't hard to understand why the neo-swing trend of the '90s (which favored a very ironic blend of jump blues and early rock & roll) ran out of gas and was pretty much dried up by the end of the decade. Although some quality bands came out of that trend (including the Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy), there were plenty of amateurs who couldn't play their instruments and seemed to think that irony and cuteness was enough to carry them. Besides, the trend generally neglected the Benny Goodman/Duke Ellington/Artie Shaw side of things -- there's something wrong with bands that run around talking about a swing revival but can't play anything by Lionel Hampton or Glenn Miller. But despite all those things, there is no reason why younger artists shouldn't explore swing if they're good at it -- and Underneath a Brooklyn Moon is far superior to most of the neo-swing that was recorded in the '90s. Perhaps it is mixing apples and oranges to compare pianist/producer J.C. Hopkins and his Biggish Band to those '90s acts and insist that Hopkins is better than most of them; stylistically, Hopkins is going for something different -- instead of mixing jump blues with early rock & roll, this 2005 release recalls the '40s in a way that is much closer to Count Basie and Duke Ellington (minus the heavy focus on instrumentals and with some early bebop influence as well). But Hopkins definitely has the irony thing down -- not only in terms of his '40s-like attire, but also in terms of his often clever lyrics (which are skillfully handled by Queen Esther -- a big-voiced singer with a very bluesy, gritty take on jazz). Hopkins, however, isn't dorky about it; he and Esther show a genuine affection for different sides of '40s culture (the film noir darkness as well as the quaint romanticism). Underneath a Brooklyn Moon doesn't contain any standards; Hopkins wrote everything himself, and he shows considerable promise on this fun yet professional-sounding effort.

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