Svetlana and the Delancey Five Bring Their Cosmopolitan Speakeasy Swing to Midtown

by delarue

For the past four years, Svetlana and the Delancey Five have been recreating a magical, cosmopolitan world that time forgot with their Monday night residency at swanky Norfolk Street speakeasy the Back Room. Singer/bandleader Svetlana Shmulyian has fearsome chops, but she uses them very subtly, and her band follows suit. In a demimonde full of cookie-cutter swing jazz bands, she stands out with an approach that on one hand is completely trad yet is also completely individualistic, a sophisticated, globally-inspired take on a revered American sound. And it’s as romantic as you could possibly want: lots of couples make it a date with this band. She and the group have a show coming up this Friday, June 24, with two sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM featuring special guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon at Lucille’s, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Advance tix are $20 and still available as of today.

Last night, the band were on top of their game, everybody seeming to be in a goodnaturedly conspiratorial mood. Trumpeter Mike Sailors’ rat-a-tat solo against tenor saxophonist Michael Hashin’s more balmy lines on a deeply bluesy take of It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing set the tone immediately. The bandleader then joined them, decked out in a simple but striking black evening dress, heels and a big pearl necklace. Midway through the set, she left the band by themselves to play a blues while she made the rounds of the room, schmoozing and catching up with a circle of admirers that numbers as many women as men. It was as if this was 1952 and she was the mob moll in charge of the joint, teasing and toying with the shady dudes who made the secluded spot a favorite place for their own conspiracies, reputedly for many decades.

Shmulyian’s delivery is charmingly precise: there’s a distinctive Russian erudition and craftsmanship to how she constructs a phrase. While you can tell that she’s immersed herself in Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan, she doesn’t sound much like any of them. Shmulyian’s voice is extraordinarily mutable; she can be misty on one number, and then disarmingly direct and crystalline as she was on her first one, a vividly uneasy swing through But Not For Me. She saved her vibrato for the very lowest and highest notes she’d hit all night, with a Powerglide fluidity, and made it look effortless.

Rather than scatting, Shmulyian keeps her improvisations within the lyrics, matching her interpretation to their mood, as she did with the coy melismas of the jauntily shuffling bounce after that. Likewise, she reached for the rafters with some blissful leaps to the top of the scale and then hung on for dear life throughout a pretty sizzling, uptempo take of Blue Skies over pianist Ben Paterson’s gritty, clenched-teeth phrasing underpinned by bassist Scott Ritchie (whose credits reputedly include Lady Gag) and Freddy Cole drummer Conerway Henry III. The low-key ballad after that gave the dancers a chance to get cozy with a slow drag, but also gave Shmulyian a launching pad to show off her forceful, poignant low register. Then she closed the set with an triumphantly smoky take of Exactly Like You that put KD Lang’s to shame.

And that was just the first set. The band are doing a couple of sets on Friday, so you can expect a more expansive look at the colorful personalities of everybody involved. And you can dance if you feel like it.