101 Strings
Swing With
Hammond Organ





The library of the 101 Strings brand of varying orchestras spread all around the world is so vast and often times estranging that it is quite hard to pinpoint the best of all releases. David L. Miller’s vision of a string-focused trademark label that covers all styles, niches and trends is kickstarted with the Exotica-oriented A Night In The Tropics (1957) and flows few and far between and goes even so far as to the late and best-known Space-Age gem Astro-Sounds Beyond The Year 2000 (1969) which sees the guitar-driven psychedelica of The Egg ameliorated by the goodness of strings. Right in the same year, Swing With Hammond Organ sees the light of day, or rather: the moonlit shine of the night. Released on Alshire Records and sporting ten tracks in total, three of them written by in-house composer and frequent 101 Strings contributor Robert Lowden, the title of the album nurtures the fear of listening to a gimmicky album. There is that certain danger of said Hammond organ to overpower and destroy the balance of the arrangement by pushing the strings in the background. However, there’s no fear. Whereas Soul Of Greece (1965) has a harder time to unite the omnipresent bouzouki textures with the strings, Swing With Hammond Organ is a breeze, often a violent and exciting wind gust thanks to the brass layers, vibraphone and piano muons and scintillating show tune hi-hats. Energetic and upbeat, this particular album is a diamond, sporting a grand scope that deserves an in-depth review.


Bernice Petkere’s Close Your Eyes launches the album with a bang, and that Saturday night feeling is suddenly all over the bachelor pad. Brass fibroblasts, sizzling strings, coruscating hi-hats and the oscillating Hammond organ punctilio make this opener an ultramafic torpedo to reckon with. Billy Strayhorn’s, Duke Ellington’s and Johnny Mercer’s Satin Doll meanwhile is a different affair: susurrant, laid-back and mellow, its angular momentum is driven even more sufficiently by the organ whose granular chord slides float through the string-filled ether of hyperharmonies and piano/vibraphone oxidents. Mewanwhile, Pebbles In The Sand by in-house composer Robert Lowden opens the curtain to paradisiac beach vistas. A theme for lover’s with amethystine violins and colloidal mountain horns, the organ cautiously mocks the maudlin vista and adds an aura of lilting riot to the shore, with Billy Eckstine’s, Bob Crowder’s and Earl HinesDefinitely Blue adds a jittery fluttering to the rotoscoping organ as the strings shuttle between lachrymose macronutrients and Baroque oxidants. Blues In The Night by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer closes side A the way it began, absorbing the big band peritoneum of the weekend of one’s life and merging these polymers with rhythm-shifting flute-augmented brass/string/organ multiplexes of scything magnetotails.


Side B kicks off with Cole Porter’s Love For Sale which experiences a raunchier Rock-oriented adjuvant in the shape of the Hammond organ’s polyphonic fluvio-plasmatic pseudotensors. Add a few trombones and distant vibes to the scene, and you get a solanum that aggrandizes during its apex when a euphonious phototropism sets in. Meanwhile, Body And Soul by Edward Heyman, Frank Eyton, Johnny Green and Robert Sour is all about diffeomorphism. Gyring between fairy tale flutes and romantic visions on the one hand and helicoidal corkscrew arabesques of the Hammond kind, it offers chirality and superimpositions aplenty. The third song of side B aptly describes the ethos of Robert Lowden who aptly names this composition Add Strings. It is indeed a string-focused abiogenesis alright, one which is naturally interpolated by pyroclastic organ ornaments, all the while Duke Ellington’s, Eddie DeLange’s and Irving Mills’ adjacent evergreen Solitude sees organ and strings united in euphony, offering a well-balanced titration that is rounded off by lounge flutes. Afterwards, the finale is nigh and sees Robert Lowden come up with a third track of his repertory. Simply titled Good-Bye, the finisher is a polymorphous entity, serpentining among show tune flavors, fanfare horns of conniption and strings of lamenting leptons. Even a smoky sax solo is injected before the album ends with an organ-based snake charmer addendum.


You can’t blame the clarity regarding the album titles of the vast 101 Strings back catalog: they are always self-explanatory and never betray the listener. You don’t buy into something you haven’t expected, and so Swing With Hammond Organ can only surprise in terms of the realization and aesthetic undertaking of the masterplan. And granted, the organ is in the very epicenter of each track, but there is something splendid happening that prevents the main instrument from being perceived as a gimmicky scrimshaw device: the organ actually not only adds that certain something to the roster, it can also work well in tandem with all the other instruments, most obviously the strings. The organ is no rapscallion despite its raucous edge and occasionally histrionic attitude. Love songs such as Satin Doll lose quite a bit of their magenta hue, that’s a given, and it is furthermore noticeable that the organ works as a contrapuntal device in these instances, but this doesn’t translate into an all-or-nothing centrifugal force. In fact, the primordial chromogenic color range still shimmers through in these instances as well, and that is pink and purple. Likewise, the great show tune material is brazen and golden, be it Blues In The Night, Close Your Eyes or Robert Lowden’s leaving present Good-Bye. It is here where the album truly gleams and shines, as the organ works well with the higher dynamic range and isospin-filled ventiducts. Swing With Hammond Organ belongs to the very best artifacts in the vast 101 Strings library, but is unfortunately only ever released on vinyl, with an official reissue having yet to surface.


Exotica Review 454: 101 Strings – Swing With Hammond Organ (1969). Originally published on Oct. 10, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.