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Skitch Henderson: Swinging With Strings

Any album with melodies “from the songbook of ‘remember when'” and arrangements that “bring back memories of the wonderful radio days,” as Skitch Henderson puts it in the liner notes to his Swinging With Strings, may become so devoted to preserving memories that it forgets to create any new ones. The lighting on the CD cover, which makes ol’ Skitch look embalmed, does not exactly dispel this fear.

But most of the musicians on Swinging With Strings actually played with Henderson in his mid-century NBC Orchestra, and they don’t need to preserve what they still know. Despite Henderson’s liner-note assertion that “old becomes new or ancient becomes modern when the right people gather,” these players attempt neither to modernize nor to reminisce over the old style, but simply play it.

Thus Henderson’s return to solo piano, understated and unfailingly lyrical, is supported by people who are completely in tune with his aims. The violins have a perfect society sound, focused and sweet, like Sara Caswell’s easy meditation on “Lover Man.” Guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini steady the rhythm and provide decorous embellishments at the same time, as in their respective solos on “In a Mellow Tone” and “Easy Living.”

This style is relentlessly polished and upbeat, sometimes to a fault, but it can remain appealing as long as it appeals to talented musicians, like the ones on this record. Swinging With Strings points unceasingly towards the past, but it at least manages to create new memories in its old style.

Originally Published