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Comedian Harmonists: Comedian Harmonists

Who woulda’ thunk it, that a pre-WWII German vocal group would account for one of the year’s best releases? The saga of the first domestic recording by the Comedian Harmonists, long planned by Hannibal’s Joe Boyd and coinciding with a film and a Broadway musical on the subject, is a case in which the back story conspires with beguiling musical strengths and traces of campy charm to make for cohesive yet disarming treasure. Formed in 1928, the group was heavily inspired by American models, but added their own elements of arrangemental intricacy and giddy, quirky touches that make comparisons to Spike Jones reasonable, on some level. Thickets of warm, resonant harmonizing on the themes of “Night and Day” or “Happy Days Are Here Again” can yield to something more surreal, with gargling and whistling, or, on Ellington’s “Creole Love Song,” ironic facsimiles of jazz instruments. History interrupted their progress, for good. They rose to some prominence in the tail end of the Weimar Republic, but were brought to a halt by culture tyrant Goebbels, who decried their music as “Judeo-Marxist caterwauling.” It’s high time for a rediscovery, especially at a time when music just outside the jazz world proper, of the pre-bop era (i.e., Raymond Scott, Leroy Shields, and others) is enjoying a renaissance. In the Comedian Harmonists world, Americana is revisited and reconstructed, with a German accent and a unique blend of stately musicality and creative fervency. In short, it’s music for the ages.

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