If Swan Songs turns out to be Fame’s last album as intended then it’s a fitting end to his lengthy career.
The bandleader, Hammond organist and pianist is in f ine voice, mixing jazz, blues and West Indian influences, just as he did when starting out at Soho’s The Flamingo in the early 60s.
The Last Blue Flames include Fame’s sons Tristan Powell on guitar and James Powell on drums, alongside Brit-jazz luminaries that include trumpeter Guy Barker, tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, bassist Alec Dankworth and vibraphonist Anthony Kerr. Given that, it’s no surprise the band’s performances are faultless.
Recorded at The Bunker, Welwyn Garden City, it’s very much a personal project – Fame co-produces the album and is releasing it on his own label. He also writes 10 of the 12 tracks, with the lyrics autobiographical, often framed in nostalgia, but balanced by the trademark dry wit he adopted from Mose Allison. Indeed, Fame pays tribute to Allison, his biggest influence, on the swinging Mose Knows, while on the Count Basie-esque Diary Blues, he wryly recalls: ‘I did my time with Van The Man, cos that’s the kind of fool I am.’
Pianist Floyd Dixon’s Lovin’ Brought Me Into This World becomes infectious bluebeat with enthusiastic interjections of “Yes now!” It would easily have fitted into his 1964 live sets, as would calypso number, De Caribbean Way and the instrumental Spin Recovery. Closer My Ship, meanwhile, written by Fame’s old Flamingo club friend, pianist Mike O’Neill, takes him full circle back to the beginning.