Often, songs, regardless of genre, feel as though they have dancing in mind, whether a performer announces as much or not. In the case of Eyal Vilner, presenting his fourth recording with his eponymous big band, the “swing” of the title refers to both the music and the dance. On “Swing Out!” Vilner plays alto sax, clarinet and flute. He also handles conducting and arrangement duties.
“Swing Out!” is an exciting development that demonstrates Vilner’s willingness to explore various types of expression. He states: “Ever since I started playing, for me, swing was the thing. I remember having conversations with my teachers back in Tel Aviv about the bands that really swung and how that feeling is so essential in the music we call jazz. But was only after I started swing dancing myself that I began to truly understand just what that means.”
Thus, if the music on “Swing Out!” inspires listeners to dance, the reaction might not be coincidental. Packed with a full roster of performers, including two vocalists, 12 horns, drums and even a washboard player, the Eyal Vilner Big Band pulls out all the stops and creates music that has been inspired by dance.
The Eyal Vilner Big Band is one set of performers that keep swing music alive and well in New York City. The ensemble is comprised of seasoned and new performers who have been selling out well-known venues in New York City like The Django, Central Park Summer Stage, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Smalls, Minton’s Playhouse, and Swing 46.
“Swing Out!” by Eyal Vilner Big Band
The group’s fourth recording offers listeners 12 tracks in a dizzying array of approaches to swing. From the obvious of swing and danceability of “Downhill” an original by Vilner that opens the recording, to the spiritual surprise of “I’m On My Way to Canaan Land” made famous by Gospel great Mahalia Jackson, but beautifully and soulfully sung by Brianna Thomas.
Listeners can hear and feel the swing of the jazz and the dance moves that would give even more life to the song. With a brief, but hearty drum roll, the song opens. After the drumming, the horns blast the song into life and the track is off and running from that point on. Hearing “Downhill” (which is anything but), listeners get a feel of a club full of skillful dancers performing to the live band. It is no wonder then that the song has become a favorite of New York’s Lindy Hop scene. For those who love horn-rich, danceable contemporary jazz that sounds like classic jazz, “Downhill” is a song that must be heard. The plunger-muted trombone is a fantastic touch.
“I’m On My Way to Canaan Land” opens with sustained, slightly aggrieved notes from an upright bass. The sound and feel of the opening sounds like the song to follow will be more experimental. Although some might consider it a bit experimental to pair Thomas’ Gospel vocal portion with swing music, the song succeeds as both styles converge to make a brand new song. The song eventually takes on a frenzied pace and sound that recalls some of the more action-packed scenes of “West Side Story.”
After the “frenzy,” Thomas comes back in, her voice a bit more raw, yet still controlled. the horns act as a chorus of singers, backing the singer’s sentiments. The song sounds like a triumph.
“Swing Out!” manages to keep swing music alive whether listeners participate in swing dancing clubs anywhere. The album is set for release July 12, 2019.