Various Artists

Swingin' Cheese: Croon Tunes and Kitscherama

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Packed with bossy brass, squinky keyboards, and electric Latin '60s dance beats, Swingin' Cheese focuses mainly upon conspicuously contrived instrumentals; while pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck embodies the suavity-with-horns formula that cropped up so unexpectedly on "Touch Me" by the Doors, it is Mel Tormé whose nervous attempt to put across "Secret Agent Man" really deserves the Golden Kitsch Award -- at least in the vocal category. While "Cheese" is a wonderfully ambiguous/specific designator, the term "kitsch" is derived from the handsome German word "verkitschen," signifying cheapness or shoddy workmanship. Established in the popular vernacular by decades of art theory and criticism (and the dissemination of same through History of Art lectures in universities across the land), the word "kitsch" has come to be applied quite liberally to a wide range of curious cultural manifestations, including some work that has substantial merit. Two items perhaps unfairly designated as kitsch are Percy Faith's cover of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" (this rendition of a tune made suddenly world-famous by Carlos Santana might qualify as one of Faith's least kitschy achievements), and "The Spanish Flea." That quintessential mainstream '60s pop tune, written by Julius Wechter, premiered by his Baja Marimba Band then popularized by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, is here transformed into exciting soul-jazz by Trudy Pitts, a formidable organist who specialized in making lightweight material come alive by improvising on the changes with skill and technique comparable to that of her contemporary Brother Jack McDuff. Other participants in this wild little retro-lounge collection include Jules Ruben (whose "Latin Ensemble" worked up a kicky version of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fur Elise"); easy listening magnate Ray Conniff; Spaniard Augusto Algueró; Latin Americans Pepe Jamarillo and Roberto Delgado; English pianist and master of mood music Tony Osbourne; British dance band leader Joe Loss, and prolific pop trumpeter Ray Davies (no relation to Ray Davies of the Kinks), who was the man behind Crescendo's 1971 Manzanilla Sound LP (released under the band name Manzanilla) and the leader of the Button-Down Brass.

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