With the exception of certain ghost and repertory ensembles, many of the jazz big bands making a go of it in 2009 can safely be termed postmodern: They relish dissonance, free playing and through composition; incorporate the sonics and textures of experimental rock; evoke the cinema, sometimes turning concerts into multimedia exhibitions. The influence of Björk often seems to supersede that of Count Basie. There’s a desire to sidestep the kitsch and nostalgia associated with the swing era—to embrace the architecture but reinvent the attitude and pull from all aesthetic corners.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, which is currently touring the states with its Christmas program, revels in kitsch, and will hopefully continue to do so. Its concert at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Reading, Pa., was more than 90 minutes of perfectly conceived big-brass pizzazz, jump-blues boogie and some of the best rockabilly currently being performed. Serious-minded jazz fans might call it a guilty pleasure or dismiss it outright, but they’d be missing the point. For what it was, Setzer’s show was state of the art.