True to this group’s name, the material on their second CD fits better in a category sometimes described as lounge music than it fits into jazz. Of course, lounge music never would have existed were it not for jazz, but lounge music does what it does through calculation, whereas jazz, even when it is cool jazz, relies on spontaneity. There’s little evidence of an improvisatory spirit at work on “Second Hand Smoke.” That’s not a criticism at all—merely my attempt not to mislead Fanfare’s readers.
On its Web site (chaiseloungenation.com, not chaiseloungeband.com, as given on the back of the CD case), the group introduces itself as follows: “Chaise Lounge performs a blend of music that sounds like it was recorded at Capitol Recording Studios in 1962 and somehow found its way to today’s pop charts.” This is the sound that bachelors used to listen to in their pads, back when they had pads and not iPods. Julie London, Peggy Lee, and Sam Butera (among others) defined this territory, and it remains popular today—albeit with a knowing wink—as suggested by the popularity of Capitol’s “Ultra Lounge” reissue series, and also by the renaissance of interest in people such as Esquivel, Billy May, and Nelson Riddle.
Chaise Lounge is not a tribute or cover band, though. Of the 15 songs on this CD, 12 are originals by band members Charlie Barnett (guitar, accordion) or Marilyn Older (vocals). The concept is rather like that of writing new classical music to be performed by a Baroque ensemble in authentic period style. The three covers are André Previn’s and Paul Webster’s oh-so-hip Like Young (like, wow), the Beatles’s Blackbird, and Big Deal on M Street, whose title is an allusion (I think) to Chaise Lounge’s hometown of Washington, D.C., but whose material is adapted from an old film score by Piero Umiliani. (Umiliani, of course, was the composer of the cerebral Mah Nà Mah Nà, popularized by Sesame Street.) Chaise Lounge’s first CD (“The Early Years”) contains more covers, some of them delightfully unexpected, such as the Talking Heads’s Burning Down the House and Three Dog Night’s One.
It must be said, first of all, that Barnett and Older write excellent songs. The material is smart, funny, tough, and not afraid of emotions. In a musically just world—that is to say, in 1962—people like Dean Martin and Peggy Lee probably would have recorded these tunes. They’re that good. Second, Older is an appealing singer. She blends cockiness and a wisecracking attitude with confessional sensitivity. If you like Canadian singer Holly Cole (and you should), you’ll probably like Marilyn Older, because they seem to have similar priorities. Older, like Cole, couldn’t sing boringly, or fail to create a real character in the course of three short minutes if she tried.
The other members of Chaise Lounge are Gary Gregg (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), John Jensen (trombone, trumpet), Pete Ostle (bass), and Tommy Barrick (drums). Together, they create a sound that is musically tight and always swinging, and all of them are given important solo opportunities as well. You know you’re in the hands of professionals here—professionals who love their jobs.
I was so impressed with this CD that I turned right around and ordered its predecessor. I live in the D.C. area and hope to catch Chaise Lounge live soon. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
– Raymond Tuttle