Sunday, November 2, 2014

Alex Pangman launches her New Orleans album "New" at Hugh's Room Monday

Alex Pangman felt right at home in the Crescent City with the hard swingin' Cottonmouth Kings.

Although the vivacious Alex Pangman will always be known as Canada's Sweetheart of Swing, the spirited Toronto jazz stylist has consistently resisted the temptation to retrace her steps.

Pangman's latest studio recording New – which she's showcasing Monday at Hugh's Room prior to the album's official release by Justin Time on Tuesday – delivers on the title's promise with a repertoire refreshing  selection of cool cookers cut in the historic Algiers section of New Orleans accompanied by the hard swinging members of the New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings.

"Without completely abandoning the style I've developed," explains Pangman, who continues to perform with her Alley Cats albeit bolstered by the Cottonmouth Kings' violinist Matt Rhody and bass saxophonist Tom Saunders  for the big reveal Monday night, "I wanted to try something different. For me, that meant working in a new studio, in a new town and singing songs I'd never done before with a whole new group of musicians. It's all about New.  "I'd been to New Orleans a number of times over the years and I just loved what heard, especially from the Cottonmouth Kings who are one of the most cohesive unit in town working in a 30s style."

Everything flows together so effortlessly on the New album, you'd think that Pangman had been singing with these characters for years. In fact, the 10 songs they recorded with Canadian ex-pat engineer Andrew "Goat" Gilchrist (Neville Brothers, Maceo Parker) in a converted 1930s wood-frame church called The Living Room is a document of their first musical encounter.

"It was all very exciting. I didn't know them, they didn't know me – it was a bit like going on a first date with the added element of knowing everything was being recorded.  "We had a rehearsal the day before starting to record where we ran through the tunes and discussed the various parts. It all came together very organically over two days with usually just three takes for each song. Of course, if someone hit on a cool riff or had an amazing exchange, we'd try another take or two with that new part added. I'm very pleased with the results – it has a nice sparkle."

Considering how busy they were during those two days recording as an ensemble, the New album sounds remarkably relaxed and spacious. While Pangman steers clear of the tired tropes and corny cliches commonly associated with the Crescent City, the laid back feel of New Orleans is present in every phrase, even on a Canadian classic like "I'll Never Smile Again" Yes, it's Can-con.

"I always like to include some Canadian material on my albums so I thought we'd try I'll Never Smile Again. I'd never performed it before but it's such a beautiful song. Many people associate the tune with Tommy Dorsey because it was a huge hit for him and made Frank Sinatra a star but Ruth Lowe wrote it in Toronto after her husband died during an operation. She later remarried and had kids which gave her lots to smile about."

Among the many classic tunes Pangman and crew revitalized on New, the song which had the most personal resonance for her amidst her ongoing battle with cystic fibrosis was Fit As A Fiddle (And Ready For Love). While the rousing number has been revisited many times over the years – memorably by Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain – an early version clicked with Pangman while recovering from a second double-lung transplant in August of 2013.

"After coming out of surgery, I remember my doctor saying, 'the lungs are a really good match this time.' Soon I was back singing and listening to these old 78s. When I put on Joe Venuti's 1932 recording of Fit As A Fiddle with Annette Hanshaw, it really connected with me. For the first time in a long while is was feeling fit as a fiddle. My new lungs are another reason the album is called New. We cut this album just seven months after my surgery."

New showcases Pangman performing at the peak of her powers. Whether or not she hears her name read during an awards show prefaced by something about how "it took a trip down south to illuminate the remarkable gifts of jazz music's swingin'est northern star," Pangman will already be hard at work on her next career topper. 

Tickets for Alex Pangman's "New" release party at Hugh's Room on Monday are $22.50 advance, $25 at the door and the show starts at 8:30 pm. Reservations can be made right here

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