Cats & Jammers

Kicking the Gong

Tuxedo Records, 1991

A casual glance at this trio in their forties finery will immediately clue you in as to their musical intentions. They're not exactly on the cutting edge of modern music, and they seem to be quite happy about that. Their interests lie in vintage vocal jazz, particularly vocal harmonies.

Their repertoire consists of standards like Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and Georgia", Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans" and Cab Calloway's "Kicking The Gong Around" (all featured on this release). So why not just listen to the classic recordings by the original artists? Because you won't get to hear the Cats' very clever and interesting vocal arrangements. They slow down a straight R&B tune like Louis Jordan's "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" and put a whole new twist on it. On "'A' Train" Tony Marcus sings the melody smooth and low while Piper Heisig and Sylvia Herold add horn-section-like vocal lines over the top. On "Smoke Rings" they create a swirling sound suggestive of the drifting smoke rings. All three have strong voices and sing together wonderfully.

The instrumentation of the band is Heisig on acoustic bass and Herold on rhythm guitar, with Marcus on guitar and violin, and together they lay down a relaxed yet very swinging groove. In concert, Marcus plays occasional sax, but on this album they bring in outside help for the few sax and trumpet parts. Marcus takes most of the solos; his guitar playing is quite good, his intonation on violin a little shaky. Heisig contributes a few solos of "blue blowing" -- essentially kazooing without a kazoo, humming through her lips to produce a sort of muted trumpet sound. Most of us have probably tried this at one time or another, but Heisig has really honed her skill at it -- she has excellent tone and manages to put together interesting improvisations while remaining steady on bass.

Tuxedo seems to be their own label, so if you can't find this in stores you can get the CD for $15 (cassette for $10) by sending to this address: 2557 Wakefield Ave., Oakland, CA 94606.

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