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A Jazz Christmas at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Fri Dec 23rd, 2016

The Hot Sardines

Bard’s Sosnoff Theater was sold out to an appreciative audience this past Friday evening. The Hot Sardines remain an improbable and successful act currently at their peak with seven recorded albums of hot, bluesy jazz with a wry 1920s to 1940s ambiance. With Miz Elizabeth Bourgerol as witty frontwoman and salty vocalist with sass and a spontaneous, lyrical and natural voice, they rocketed from nowhere to the higher stratosphere of pop touring.

With six gifted musicians and madcap tap dancer, Edwin "Fast Eddy" Francisco, The Hot Sardines offer a slick, polished show with variety and nuance in eloquent solo riffs. Most of their original arrangements of classic pop tunes are done by band leader and pianist Evan "Bibs" Palazzo who plays stride piano effortlessly with a bluesy swing and drummer Alex Raderman who arranged the first two opening numbers, a version of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Frank Sinatra’s “Mistletoe and Holly.” Born and raised in Paris, Bourgerol sings at ease in French and English while she offers witty repartee during interludes.

Among the more memorable songs performed were: a version of Ella Fitzgerald’s risqué mambo “Santa Got Stuck in My Chimney”; a version of Billie Holiday’s “Stormy Weather”; an Edith Piaf song about poverty; Bing Crosby’s “Please come home for Christmas”; Dean Martin’s “Christmas Blues,” a song also covered by Jo Stafford and Bob Dylan. Bourgerol, who sports a post-graduate degree, joked that of the singers only Dylan won the Nobel Prize. (Nobody claims Dylan can sing.)  Bourgerol’s accent and phrasing explodes with jubilance. Some of these rollicking songs can be found of their 2013 album The Hot Sardines' Lowdown Little Christmas Record.

Notable instrumentals performed by this very tight, euphonious band were an enhanced arrangement of Professor Longhair’s Mardi Gras masterpiece “Big Chief” and Palazzo’s piano solo stride version of “White Cliffs of Dover.” I thought Nick Myers on clarinet and saxophone was dynamite and that Evan "Sugar" Crane (from Poughkeepsie) on upright bass provided rock-solid foundation for the whole band. Jason Prover on trumpet had his share of high notes and Mike Sailors on cornet and trombone often gave the band unexpected lift. It was a treat to devour such a polished performance by this band of seasoned jazzmen.

The show bounced back and forth between snazzy arrangements of their own material and jazzed-up traditional Christmas songs, ending somewhat predictably yet deliciously with Irving Berlin's “White Christmas” as white fluff fell from the heavens. And, no, fluff was not yet falling from the heavens as sleighs pulled away to Christmas destinations. Is there a song in your stocking? A jazz song?