Chasing the Moon – Ooh La La
CD review by Tony Smith
This jazz ensemble is at the forefront of several sub-genres.
Their evocation of gipsy swing, cool blues and continental jazz styles is peerless among Australian groups.
It is understandable that jazz clubs along the eastern seaboard continually welcome them back.
Chasing the Moon are Kathy Bluff on strings and vocals, Paul Burjan on woodwinds, John Blenkhorn guitars, Garry Steel piano accordion, Jessica Dunn double bass and Mike Quigley on drums.
Peter Malone on guitar and Tony Keep on drums make guest appearances.
The repertoire for this album Ooh La La emphasises French connections, but the tunes have broader origins.
Kathy Bluff composed ‘Milonga de Navidad’ and ‘Stayin’ In’ and wrote ‘Archie’s Theme’ with John Blenkhorn.
‘Ooh La La’ by Paul Burjan is another original, while all tunes are arranged by the ensemble.
Charles Trenet’s ‘Menilmontant’ provides an excellent opening.
It establishes Bluff’s clear, perfectly pitched voice, with backing from instruments, including soaring wind work by Burjan.
‘Caravan’ by Duke Ellington, ‘La Vie en Rose’ by Edith Piaf, Louiguy and Margurite Monnot and ‘Melodie au Crepuscule’ by Django Reinhart and Laurence Riesner are other classics.
‘Passion Waltz’ by Tony Murena, ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn and ‘Villarejo’ by Monte, Antunes, Brown and Baby complete a well balanced selection.
‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ is notable for the expressive guitar by Blenkhorn and for Bluff’s warbling lower notes.
Then Bluff picks up the fiddle and the tune soars on the strings and on Burjan’s saxophone.
While these instruments lead the melody in turn, it is the balance and harmonies between them which is most impressive.
‘Milonga de Navidad’ opens with a riff on Dunn’s bass, which features on this tune.
This Bluff composition has subtle references to European and Latin music, especially when Steel’s accordion weaves across the other instruments.
The Reinhardt track needs no introduction.
Blenkhorn’s guitar is, as always, highly impressive on this slow burner.
Burjan takes over the melody effortlessly and the guitar provides rhythm along with Quigley’s drums.
Bluff sings in a higher range here, showing her versatility.
Burjan opens his own composition, title track ‘Ooh Lah Lah’, which provides a quicker contrast.
The instruments contribute in a staccato rhythm here which dancers of the quickstep must find irresistible.
‘Archie’s Theme’ has a lower pitch and gives the players an opportunity to show their skills.
The track is especially suited to accordion and saxophone with the bass grounding the tune.
‘La Vie En Rose’ is such a standard that this arrangement works a minor miracle in sounding original.
Perhaps part of the magic comes from the freshness that Bluff’s voice brings to the lyrics.
Similarly, the tango ‘Caravan’ swings along on strings and accordion with saxophone weaving around and improvising.
Quigley’s drums have a nice solo here and Bluff’s fiddle creates a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour with yearning vibrato.
‘Passion Waltz’ features Blenkhorn’s guitar.
The fiddle carries the melody line in this Mediterranean sounding track.
The accordion especially evokes Italian and Greek themes.
‘Stayin’ In’ starts with Bluff singing her composition.
The saxophone, bass and drums then take the lead in a key change.
Later Bluff returns with some jazz style lilting that echoes various instruments.
‘Vilarejo’ has an orchestral beginning with plucked strings and some delightful flute.
Chasing the Moon is an Australian ensemble which can hold its head high playing an international repertoire.
The quality of the arrangements, the virtuosity of the instrumentalists and Kathy Bluff’s vocals are simply outstanding.