At first glance, a CD titled “The Bat Swings” might sound more like a novelty recording than anything else. And, without seeing the graphics and photography, a person might assume that the “bat” of the title is related to baseball. Or, that the title refers somehow to flying mammals. The latter is closer to reality. Once again, the University of Central Florida’s jazz band takes on a special thematic project. This time, it is the iconic superhero, Batman. The ensemble puts their own spin on the music from the Caped Crusader’s 1960’s television show. The result is nostalgia mixed with a side of fun. It is clear that the Flying Horse Big Band is comprised of talented players. The songs “Batman Blues” and “Kitka” are standout tracks on the recording.
The Flying Horse Big Band, in brief
Until 2013, the ensemble now known as The Flying Horse Big Band had been UCF Jazz Ensemble 1. From its beginnings as just another college ensemble, The Flying Horse Jazz Band distinguished itself in terms of performance quality and themes undertaken in performances and recordings.
As early as 2011, The Flying Horse Big Band (then still Jazz Ensemble 1) began to enter jazz charts. Their debut album, “Jazz Town” reached as high as No. 43 on JazzWeek. The following year, their sophomore effort fared even better, reaching No. 35 on JazzWeek’s chart in 2013, after its 2012 release.
Last year’s “Big Man on Campus” was reviewed here on LemonWire. And now, the ensemble is back. If the world of jazz is paying attention, “The Bat Swings,” the group’s fifth album, should do just as well as the others.
“The Bat Swings” by The Flying Horse Big Band
In the late 1960s, “Batman” aired on network television. It endured in reruns in the 1970s and thus exposed a new generation that hadn’t even been born in the 1960s to the style of humor and the over-the-top, almost slapstick kind of physical comedy. For some young viewers, the mix of smudgy dark and bright colors and the hyped up drama between characters looked serious enough. However, the show was supposed to be a comedy. What was unmistakable, was the show’s soundtrack. The horn-rich instrumentation indicated the show’s urban setting and the larger society’s emphasis on jazz, even as rock and pop continued to evolve. That jazz-oriented soundtrack is where the sound of “The Bat Swings” picks up.
“The Bat Swings” brims with verve and energy. Each song is smart and funny in its own way. The track listing shows 13 songs. However, five of them are titled “Bat-Spin.” They are mini songs that function like the transition sound in the series.
The bluesy soundscape is unmistakable. the mid-tempo groove gives the song a certain attitude. The horns have taken over the soundscape and the resulting sound makes people believe that even a superhero can get the blues from time to time. In addition to the main instrumentation, the song is augmented by several horn solos. Showcases by baritone sax, trombone, trumpet and alto sax keep up the brassy attitude and completely overtakes the audiences’ senses. Listening to this song allows people to imagine the world of the Batman series and the various situations that would give the Caped Crusader the blues.
The liner notes explain Batman’s relationship with Catwoman and her alias, Kitka. The arrangement of the song is supposed to illustrate the variations in Batman’s relationship with Kitka, with whom he was infatuated. The liner notes describe her as the Caped Crusader’s “most beguiling love interest.” Sometimes he was practically in love, and at other times, he felt disdain for her.
The song begins almost brightly. The horn sounds begin to layer, in somewhat of a call and response arrangement. Sustained notes from one horn group are interrupted by a bluesy motif. Overall, for the first half, the mood is calm and cool. A piano sprinkles in several measures before a horn showcase. Ultimately, there are three horn solos. They blare at the midway point, and an air of mystery is created. At one point, it sounds as if two different songs are playing, possibly symbolic of Batman’s conflicting feelings. There is a mix of emotions displayed in this song, and it teaches even those with limited understanding of Batman’s involvement with Kitka the nature of the relationship.
The Flying Horse Big Band is directed by Pegasus professor, tenor sax player, Trustee Chair and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida, Jeff Rupert. “The Bat Swings” will be available March 12, 2018.