Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Irving Berlin's remarkable trajectory from a small town in Russia to a mansion in Manhattan is the quintessential story of an immigrant who embraced the opportunities America had to offer and who gave creative riches back to it many times over. These high standards give each song a vivid personality and structural integrity that makes them a joy to arrangers. Genres displayed include jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, mamabo, calypso and salsa stylings of various songs.
The Berlin for Brass volume in Naxos' American Classics series focuses on Irving Berlin. Performing the iconic composer's music is the Chestnut Brass Company. At a relatively brief 19 songs, the set is forced to cover the main points only of Berlin. Thus, well-known favorites like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and even "White Christmas" dominate the set here. The limitations of a brass band are made clear about halfway through when one starts to long for some strings or percussion to soften the sound. But besides this minor gripe, the Chestnut Brass Co. does a fine job of interpreting Berlin's music, finding nuance amid its brassy bluster. "Heat Wave" and "No Strings (I'm Fancy Free)" especially bop along at a quick clip, the former defining the high and low ends of the brass band with aplomb, while the latter is as jaunty and carefree as the song's name. It's probably difficult to make such a boisterous section of instruments sound light and airy, so it's a credit to the arranger here that "No Strings" is so bouncy. The arrangements and performances elsewhere range from satisfactory to great, making Berlin for Brass a release that should appeal to fans of the composer, brass instruments, or both. ~ Johnny Loftus
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