Actor-director Seth MacFarlane has been a very busy bee. Besides writing and starring in new sci-fi series The Orville, he has also found time to record a new album of swing standards.
Unlike his 2015 album No One Ever Tells You, which took its cue from the moodier of Frank Sinatra's ballad-heavy concept albums, In Full Swing is a sunnier offering, although there is still a generous sprinkling of slow songs in the 16-track programme.
As in his previous album, the keynotes are the swingy strings and bright brass that defined Nelson Riddle's charts for Sinatra. MacFarlane, a big fan of the Great American Songbook, picks a couple of tunes from Fred Astaire's repertoire as well as a couple of obscure gems just to mix things up. Isn't This A Lovely Day (To Be Caught In The Rain) and That Face are pretty much early and late bookends in Astaire's legendary screen career.
MacFarlane's warm baritone is a sturdier instrument than Astaire's slightly reedy tenor. Nonetheless, he cannot match the insouciant, conversational lilt that characterised Astaire's canny vocal delivery. Still, cushioned by perky brass and satiny strings, he does a credible job.
Norah Jones' fans might want to check out her guest appearance on a charming duet with him for the rarely heard 1920s hit If I Had A Talking Picture Of You. Singer-actress Elizabeth Gillies pops up on the jaunty all-American My Buick, My Love And I.
Ong Sor Fern
IN FULL SWING
Republic/Verve/ Fuzzy Door Productions
This is another anthology of American piano music by Philippines-born naturalised American pianist Cecile Licad for Danish label Danacord.
Cecile Licad, piano
Danacord 783 & 784 (2 CDs)
Following her earlier disc of American first piano sonatas, American Nocturnes dwells on the eternally fascinating subject of music of the night, which comes in surprisingly different guises.
The work that unites the mostly short pieces is George Crumb's Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (A Little Midnight Music) for prepared piano, inspired by Thelonious Monk's jazz classic, 'Round Midnight. Seven of its movements begin and end the collection and are also interspersed among works by 15 other composers.
These run the gamut of Chopin-influenced Nocturnes by 19th-century composers such as Louis Gottschalk, George Chadwick and Arthur Foote; the Romantic idioms of Amy Beach (Dreaming, The Hermit Thrush At Eve and A Hermit Thrush At Morn) and impressionisms of Charles Griffes (Notturno and Night Winds).
A more distinct American voice emerges in the 20th century, with Joseph Lamb's Ragtime Nightingale and Ferde Grofe's Deep Nocturne with its Gershwin-like harmonies. This sojourn through time culminates with Samuel Barber's Nocturne, Aaron Copland's Night Thoughts and Leo Ornstein's Nocturne No. 2, which are dissonant but still tonal.
There is a cameo in Canadian pianist-composer Marc-Andre Hamelin's Little Nocturne, but since he now lives in Boston, he is practically American.
Licad's perceptive and imaginative playing yields two hours of totally absorbing listening.
Chang Tou Liang