When I first heard The Sphynx from jazz violinist Jonathan Ng, I thought someone had thrown the wrong CD into the case before mailing it off to me. You look at the cover, and then you listen to the music, and it just doesn’t quite match. The Sphynx includes what sounds like a historic recording from the kind of sextet that might have backed Django Reinhardt back in the ’30s or ’40s, a completely swinging set from the days before stereo.
Jonathan Ng has been perfecting this throwback jazz for many years, something he calls small group swing jazz, and he uses his years as a lindy hop, balboa and blues dancer as the genesis for his passion. (There’s also a strong vein of ragtime in these tracks.) He also spent many years training as a classical musician, and his violin performance is loose and swinging and yet intricate. He’s gathered some of the best jazz musicians to create this flawless creation such as sax player Albert Alva, guitarist Luca Pino, pianist Chris Dawson and a killer rhythm section that includes bassist Seth Ford-Young and drummer Josh Collazo.
I haven’t heard this kind of authenticity since Glenn Crytzer, who applies the same sensibilities to his big band sound. The Sphynx is brief–it’s a six-song EP and nothing lasts for much more than four minutes–but it makes a solid impression. This is the sort of music that’s perfect for creating a specific mood, one that’s been marinating for decades and is now ready for exposure. You can play it in the background to brighten up your day, or you can listen with intent and discover how much care Jonathan Ng has put into these arrangements.
I know that many audiophiles might balk at this type of recording, which places The Sphynx into the realm of the pure music lover. My many years as a high-end audio show exhibitor has taught me that it takes a special type of jazz fan to appreciate this type of project, and that mono recordings and other historical performance are best saved for those who thrive on these windows into the past. If this describes you, Jonathan Ng is definitely your type of musician and bandleader. It’s not easy to make this kind of music in the 21st century, but thank your lucky stars that someone still thinks this is a worthy endeavor.