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New Review: The Flame by Bonjour Swing

Posted by Marion on July 20, 2012

Read a review of the new recording by Bonjour Swing, The Flame.

'A Burning Flame' by Winston Watusi, The Weekend Sun.

'It's undoubtedly as good an album as I remember coming out of the Bay in the past 25 years........

Flame really knocks me out. But that's true of most of the projects involving Marion Arts. When I think back over the last couple of decades there is little that Marion does musically that isn't first class stuff. She's currently, as well as playing the gypsy jazz of Bonjour Swing, exploring South American rhythms with various Brazilian percussionists. When I first met her many years ago she was flitting between serious folk music and singing 1930s jazz with one of Auckland's most reputable ensembles.

In the meantime she has had a jump swing mini-big band calld The Glamorous Mrs. B, written and recorded an epic album of songs based around The Lord Of The Rings, released a double CD retrospective of music made with her husband Robbie Laven, and more recently, made an album of classically-themed guitar and bassoon music.

As you can see, her skills and tastes span a world of music. (She also gives ukulele lessons, but let's not go there....)

Many of these ventures have been with Robbie and so it is with the new album The Flame, which opens with a flourish and is largely driven by his impressive gypsy jazz guitar. Having been to France to the annual Django Reinhardt festival, he is well-versed in the style and his guitar-playing is remarkable.

The album kicks off with an instrumental, 'Samois Swing', a fine introduction to the ensemble, Marion and Robbie on acoustics, the very able Milan Wilshier on upright bass and the Arts' son Oscar Laven on clarinet. Oscar's playing throughout is one of the album's highlights, be it on the clarinet, saxes in three sizes, or trumpet. It is hard not to imagine a big musical future for him.

The album mixes instrumentalsand songs of Marion's (and one little waltz from Robbie). She is a very distinctive songwriter, not opting for easy obvious melodies or structures but instead creating complex unusual tunes along with thought-provoking lyrics. The second song, 'The Stranger Inside', is a perfect example, with a curious introduction giving way to a catchy chorus, flailing acoustic guitar and an evocative muted trumpet.

Further on, songs skip through various gypsy jazz styles, some more obviously French - Marion writes and sings fluently in the language - some leaning towards Middle Eastern sounds ('The Flame Once High'), some like the eponymous 'Bonjour Swing', is just a celebration of life and music. There is an enjoyable relaxed vibe throughout.

This doesn't do any justice - I havn't even mentioned how good Marion's singing is - to a CD that has had a constant place in my listening for the past few weeks. I like it more each time and have been playing it constantly for friends, all of whom are equally impressed."