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Chicago Sun Times

Saxists live happily ever after

October 24, 1999


There are a million questions in Jazz City. Here are three of them:

Is there life after swing--or, more to the point, any real life in it?

If you're Sam Burckhardt, there certainly is. With "Chicago Swing" (Airway), the tenor saxophonist has released the best neo-swing album to reach these ears--one that far outdistances the mannered jump and jive of his old band, the Mighty Blue Kings, with its warmth, richness and flowing ease.

Burckhardt, who after leaving the Kings played with the Big Swing (now called the Vanguard Aces), boats a deep, soulful, throwback sound on tenor. But it's his writing that carries the day. Working in six- to nine-piece settings, with spirited players including saxophonist Ron Dewar, Hammond organist Dan Trudell and blues guitarist Steve Freund, he creates something unexpectedly fresh out of familiar materials. The ensembles dip and sway, the blues grooves wiggle and wag and the solos grab your ear without being showy.

If most neo-swing artists treat past jazz and blues styles with an ironic chip on their shoulders, Burckhardt approaches them straight up, without guile--perhaps a reflection of his coming to this music late. A native of Basel, Switzerland, he broke in as a teenage drummer backing American blues musicians. A two-day gig with Sunnyland Slim led to a meaningful association with him--and to Chicago.

There are some tangy blues on "Chicago Swing," most notably "Indigo Bunting," on which pianist Christian Rannenberg tears it up, and "Rabbit Riff Blues," a steamy organ feature. There are also some gorgeous harmonies. On "Dreamtime," the leader serves up wistfulness sweet and pure, buoyed by answering horns. On the lovely midtempo ballad "I Will See You," you can hear Johnny Hodges playing even as Burckhardt lays on sturdier feeling.

Good swing music for the '90s? Imagine that.

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