BY STEVEN ROSEN
For music to go on living, it has to be reinterpreted from time to time. That can reinvigorate it – John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things – or be so corny and awful – Pat Boone’s infamous In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy is a textbook example – it can induce hysterical laughter. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s The Jazz Age flirts with the latter syndrome, reimagining Ferry’s Roxy Music and solo work as the repertoire of an elegantly swinging, 15-piece 1920s-era dance band. Ferry, who doesn’t sing or play on the project, co-produced with Rhett Davies. As a singer with a romantically rumbling croon, Ferry long has had an attraction to the elegant compositions of the Great American Songbook – his 1999 As Time Goes By was an early example of a rocker doing an album of standards. On this exercise, you can’t fault the impeccable playing or the authenticity of the arrangements and period-evocative sound engineering (by Simon Willey), but are these really the right songs for this approach?
Roxy Music’s art-rock – at least when it was new – was innovatively progressive and even dangerous. Here they become museum pieces. Hearing “Love Is the Drug,” “Virginia Plain” and “The Bogus Man” this way embalms the material. And many lose a key dimension without vocals. Even “Do the Strand,” which originally teasingly evoked the sass and swagger of a Roaring Twenties dance party, sounds less interesting. Ferry’s biggest solo hits are here – “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance” – with faster, brighter tempos that make them different, true. But at the cost of their mysteriousness.
Ferry has the rep and clout to make sure a project like this is done first-class all the way – even the CD’s packaging is gorgeous. The interplay between strings and horns (with Martin Wheatley’s banjo emerging from the mix occasionally) is a pleasure. But overall, this material just doesn’t benefit from it.