The Guild label's sizable Golden Age of Light Music series covers the genre known as easy listening music in North America. Many of its releases have been organized thematically and have focused on the music's heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, when it evolved in tandem with sound recording technology. But this disc looks back to the origins of the genre and defines the contents by time period rather than them; the music actually goes back as far as 1927 in the case of Dancing Tambourine, by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra. Guild has already issued a couple of 1930s albums in the series, and this one is the equal of those. If you're looking for an introduction to easy listening music, you might do well to select one of the label's more general anthologies (such as the two volumes of Four Decades of Light Music). Those already immersed in the genre will find several gems in this nicely remastered set, however. Despite the later identification of easy listening with American and Canadian artists, the genre's origins were European, and most of the orchestras represented are British, with a few Continental groups. The sole American orchestra, that of André Kostelanetz, offers a small gem: Swamp Fire displays the daring arranging style of composer Hal Mooney later put at the service of singers like Sarah Vaughan. Many of the British pieces make the connections between easy listening and classical music especially clear; at this early stage, what made something "light music" was often short duration rather than musical language, and the Entrance of the Little Fauns, a French composition rendered by Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra, offers watered-down Impressionism. Another highlight is the finale, with German composer Eduard Künneke conducting his own Foxtrot with no less an ensemble than the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. As David Ades points out in his notes, it was surprising that Künneke could command such an august group, doubly so considering the 1938 date, by which time American music in general and music with any hint of African-American rhythm in particular were both being strongly discouraged by the Nazi regime. But that just goes to show how pervasive this music was, even in the 1930s, and Guild deserves major credit for rescuing these pieces from the archives.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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