The Art After 5 concert series at the Philadelphia Art Museum offers a varied program of international music to help take the edge off the harried anxieties of a busy work week. Friday night found local jazz band The Swinging Foxes enshrined in the cavernous Great Stair Hall as a nice sized crowd gathered amongst the tapestries to chill to their brand of vocal driven jazz favorites culled from the blues based big band show tunes of the Swing Era.
With the classy, blond Amber Rae fronting the band on vocals, and the beautiful Ellen Houle taking the throne on the skins, it’s not hard to guess how the name of the band evolved. Supported by Andy Buraz on guitar, the quintet was rounded out with a tenor saxophonist and an acoustic bassist. Amber Rae’s alto voce managed to cut through the tough acoustics in the room as the band put up good interpretations of favorites from Duke Ellington, Louis Jordon, Peggy Lee, Ruth Brown and others during the hour long set.
The smooth, sexy texture of Rae’s vocals blended well with Houle’s soft brushwork on the drums, but left a little to be desired on some of the more sultry tunes the band pumped out. Buraz’s guitar was out front in the mix, and his rhythmic chord changes and solos were reminiscent of the bluesy side of Grant Green making it clear that Rae, Houle and Buraz have no problem gigging as a trio. Likable, melodic solos from the tenor sax and the acoustic bass helped to round out a sound that was easy to listen to but never really ventured out of a smooth groove.
The Art After 5 program is fun. It’s free with admission, the bar is decently stocked and the food, while being a little slight, is none-the-less tasty. If you want a quick escape from the worries of the week, head on down to the museum and take advantage of something cool the city has to offer. But get there early, this popular program has the audience sitting on the Grand Staircase once the tables are filled. — DAVID CORBO