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Throwing a rope over Western swing's return

Bruce Forman and Pinto Pammy of Cow Bop play at Viva Cantina in Burbank Friday, March 15

March 09, 2013|By Jonny Whiteside
  • Bruce Forman and Pinto Pammy of Cow Bop. The band will perform Western swing March 15 at Viva Cantina in Burbank.
Bruce Forman and Pinto Pammy of Cow Bop. The band will perform… (Photo courtesy…)

Bruce Forman, widely recognized as one of the top jazz guitarists in the world, has gotten off the straight-ahead path in recent years to follow what seems at first a highly unlikely alternate route: Western swing.

Essentially a musical curiosity or historical footnote, the style was proposed and popularized by hot Texas fiddle-band leaders Milton Brown and Bob Wills in the early 1930s but was virtually extinct within three decades. Yet Forman — who was a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band and has worked with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson and Barney Kessel — is an in-demand staple at international festivals and jazz clubs. He's just released “Cowlifornia Swing,” the fourth album by his band Cow Bop, an exceptionally tight and talented group whose members trade strictly in the old-school Wills-Brown style, albeit delivered with a hard bebop twist.

“It seems to have sort of taken over, and things are getting hot for Cow Bop now,” Forman says. “Critical mass seems to be nearing. People freak out when they hear it and even at my jazz gigs, they all want to hear Cow Bop.”

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The band, which appears March 15 at Viva Cantina in Burbank, is driven by Forman's intricate, dazzling fret work and the coolly authoritative vocals of singer (and spouse) Pinto Pammy. Every song showcases Forman's innovative, engaging bop-tinged arrangements.

On “Cowlifornia Swing,” this means engaging versions of classic country songs like “Roly Poly” and “Cattle Call,” alongside such standards as Cole Porter's “What is This Thing Called Love?” and a wild “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” which strikes the ear as some kind of delightfully mutant Cajun Bebop Bossa Nova. “I've always wanted to obliterate the lines between types of music,” Forman says. “Because western swing is jazz and vice versa.”

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