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Tag: Svetlana and the Delancey Five

Misty, Cosmopolitan Charm with Svetlana & the Delancey Five At the Blue Note This Weekend

Since Svetlana & the Delancey Five have made their home at the Lower East Side backyard-tenement hideaway the Back Room on Norfolk Street for the the past four years, you might expect their leader to play the role of mob moll in front of a band playing gangster favorites from the Lucky Luciano era. Instead, watching her is more akin to being at the Deux Magots in Paris ten years down the line, when Sartre and Beauvoir were hanging out til closing time. Svetlana has devastating wit, cosmopolitan sophistication and an amazing band behind her who are every bit as important to the music as she is. This isn’t just a bunch of guys chilling behind a charismatic singer: Svetlana will jump on a trumpet or sax or piano phrase, or a drum riff and go sailing through the stars, rising from misty bittersweetness to uninhibited exhilaration, just as the band will do when she throws a phrase their way. Yet as wild as these cats can get, they’re more subtle than most of the other oldtimey swing acts out there. They’re bringing that act to the Blue Note this Sunday, Nov 27 for brunch, with sets at 11:30 AM and also 2 PM for all you normal, i.e. night people. New Orleans powerhouse trumpeter/crooner James Williams is Svetlana’s special guest, meaning that they’ll probably be minding the Satchmo-and-Ella songbook that the band explores on their most recent album.

It takes awhile to get a handle on what she does. The first time this blog caught her act, the band was cooking and so was she. The second time out, a rainy night at the Back Room, was much more melancholy and misterioso: she didn’t allow a hint of vibrato into her vocals until the closing cadenza of the last song of the set. Most recently, she charmed an all-Manhattanite audience, fronting the Seth Weaver Big Band at Zinc Bar earlier this week. Svetlana polled the crowd to see where everybody was from, and was reassured that there are still diehard jazz people on this island. And as vividly as she channeled the deadpan vindictiveness of Ellington’s Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me, and balanced that with an exuberant take of It Had to Be You, it was her original, It’s All Good, that made for the best song of the night. It’s an update on classic 30s swing for the here and now. As she hit the chorus, she suddenly rose from a warmly enveloping calm to an eye-opening leap: “When you hear the BIG NOISE, it’s not thunder or storm.” Then she took the audience groundward again: “It’s just the sound of my heart breaking.” The song ended on a characteristically enigmatic note, a little defeated, a little defiant.

Fun fact: Svetlana is a frequent Wycliffe Gordon collaborator, and makes extensive use of his playful, wit-infused charts for jazz standards. She’ll be his special guest this Friday night, Nov 25 at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center for his 7:30 PM set with his energetic quintet.

Fun fact #2: Svetlana & the Delancey Five often open with the Gerry Mulligan classic Bernie’s Tune. To be fair, they were doing this long before the 2016 Democratic primaries. But it’s still cool.

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

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.

Svetlana and the Delancey Five Bring Their Poignant Cosmopolitan Swing to the Blue Note Jazz Festival

Among New York swing jazz bandleaders, singer Svetlana Shmulyian either has the best taste in supporting musicians, or has finagled her way to the best access to them. Maybe both. She distinguishes herself as an original songwriter, and she sings in character, bringing new life to old standards as well as her own dynamic, poignant originals. She and her band the Delancey Five are one of the highlights of this year’s Blue Note Jazz Festival coming up on June 24, with two sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at Lucille’s, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Advance tix are $20.

Her debut album, Night at the Speakeasy – inspired by her long weekly residency at Norfolk Street hideaway the Back Room – is streaming at Bandcamp. With a grand total of fourteen tracks, Shmulyian offers a lot of bang for the buck. And where others might have taken the safe route and opened with a standard, she kicks it off with a swinging, subtle midtempo original, All I Want, contemplating the hope for a summer solstice “in this winter city of my dreams” in a sunny soprano, shaping the blue notes with a coy bittersweetness.

Onstage, she draws from a semi-rotating cast of talent; the band here is killer, with Wycliffe Gordon on trombone (and some arrangements as well); Adrian Cunningham on saxes and clarinet; Charlie Caranicas on trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour on piano; Vinny Raniolo on guitar; George Delancey on bass; and the fantastic Rob Garcia (whose latest album is one of the year’s most brilliant jazz releases) on drums.

Much as the standards – and not-so-standards – here are choice, it’s her own material that stands out the most. It’s All Good has Shmulyian’s signature, precise articulation – she turns off her phone just to keep things nonchalant with the guy, but then she soars up into a big angst-fueled chorus. The way the sax and Shmulyian’s upper register flights mingle and then hand off at the very end is artful, and awfully fun. The most retro number is Temptations, a co-write with bassist Brandi Disterheft, bringing to mind Blossom Dearie with its jaunty litany of images.

The bandleader duets with Gordon on a couple of Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald tunes. You Won’t Be Satisfiied finds each reveling in their roles as wounded ingenue and similarly bruised rake, while Under a Blanket of Blue pairs dixieland flourishes with a nocturnal suspense and a bitingly good Ridenhour solo. The dynamic between Gordon’s signature, irrepressible humor and Shmulyian’s poignancy is a recurrent theme throughout the record.

Ridenhour and Caranicas bring some tempting latin allusions to Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and a-Rockin’. Another Ellington tune, Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me gives Ridenhour a lauching pad for some Otis Spann-class purist blues. Garcia pushes the band’s reinvention of the Beatles’ Because with a stark tango-infused pulse under Shmulyian’s surrealistically straightforward delivery. And his original, Dance In Between the Moments, is arguably the album’s strongest moment; a sardonic, vivid, indelibly New York salute to escapist behavior on the Lower East Side.

Lady Be Good showcases the band’s expertise in stirring up a crowd on the dancefloor, while Tea for Two goes in the other direction as a tasty guitar shuffle. Shmulyian and Cunningham duet on the album’s funniest number, Sometimes I’m Happy: intentional or not, there’s a whiff of Jamaican rocksteady here.

The album’s most exotic track is legendary Russian trumpeter Eddie Rosner’s You Are Like a Song, Shmulyian giving it a balmy, tender interpretation in the original vernacular. There’s also a Beach Boys cover: the whole band gamely puts everything they have into it, but god only knows the album wouldn’t suffer without it. As it is, Shmulyian and her crew have crafted one of the year’s most dynamically fun releases, rooted in the past but inescapably in the here and now.