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The Matthew Herbert Big Band 

Goodbye Swingtime

Wednesday, May 21 2003
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If you're a dance music fan, it might be time to dig out those swing get-ups again: Big-band jazz is coming back with a vengeance. From Chicago, the U.S. capital of house music, for instance, artists like Greens Keepers and Mike Dixon are pioneering a subgenre called "swing house," infusing electronic dance music with hot horn licks and cool drum shuffling. And from across the Atlantic, Matthew Herbert, one of electronica's most iconoclastic figures, has gone one further, releasing an album of original big-band jazz, carefully tweaked using digital post-processing.

Herbert -- aka Radio Boy and Doctor Rockit -- has long been a leader of electronica's royal opposition, attacking the laziness inherent in most sample-based music and pushing himself to try new techniques. He even penned a manifesto in the style of film pioneers Dogme 95, a "Personal Contract for the Composition of Music," to keep himself on his toes. (Point 3 is key: "The sampling of other people's music is strictly forbidden.") Goodbye Swingtime is his most ambitious work to date. Written according to the terms of the decree, the album presents 10 sweeping compositions scored for the traditional setup of four trumpets, four trombones, four saxophones, piano, stand-up bass, and drums. The record is hardly traditionalist, though. The vocals -- courtesy of singers like Arto Lindsay, Super_Collider's Jamie Lidell, and Herbert's frequent collaborator Dani Siciliano -- reflect the performers' distinctive styles. Lidell's anachronistic contribution, for instance, lends a weepy R&B croon to a tune otherwise solidly grounded in the '40s.

What, exactly, makes this "electronic music"? The question might never even occur to some listeners, so subtle is Herbert's touch. On "Misprints," what sounds at first like a particularly agitated, staccato piano line turns out to be a stuttering sample; the rest of the combo plays on as though unaware of the robot on the bandstand. On tunes like "Fiction" and "The Many and the Few," however, Herbert has broken down the original arrangement and built it back up in rickety, pixel-shaped building blocks, blurring the line between the original and the remix. What makes Goodbye Swingtime so compelling is how gracefully it sidesteps old oppositions between "programmed" and "played." After all, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing; and with this collection of lush, melodic numbers, Herbert proves he's got it.

About The Author

Philip Sherburne

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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