Formatting a compilation record in 1987, Begin The Beguine is a 20 track LP that introduces Shaw and his orchestra within around an hour of time, For this write-up, I specifically want to focus on mostly the instrumental tracks present as they hone in on Shaw’s skillset and orchestrate the most engaging sense of ideology behind the direction.
Famously, one of his most recognizable tracks is “Nightmare” where the harshness of his clarinet breaks through alongside his orchestra like this dark and stormy night. Without the generics, Shaw is integral to orchestration and writing here. The performance is sluggish and foreboding as if the scene was painted to be a grisly murder.
With musical slow pans that glance across the screen, Shaw is the director of this torture show. The percussion which consists more of soft but tribal timpani-esque playing, the focus becomes this daunting wail of clarinet, almost as if it was a victim’s last words. Before fading to complete blackness, Shaw erupts with this emotional draining final note to become a curtain call for the audience.
Following later is “Traffic Jam” which has entirely different notions to it. More of a swing fest than a depressing hit from the shadows, “Traffic Jam” is blitzing and turns the focal point to each member of the orchestra who claims a solo of their own. The percussion solo to start the instrumentation is specifically akin to a firecracker where the bells ring and the snare is this great captivating piece.
As remaining members of the orchestra flood in to be mainstays, the tracks frequently transition and switch hands for the limelight. Shaw who is often the center of attention plays a rhythm section and grants these moments of pure jazz flow where power changes forms but never dies here.
When the title track “Begin The Beguine” reaches around the midpoint of the record, Shaw articulates this gentle gesture of waltz that is more approachable than any other track present on the record. “Begin The Beguine” is filled with bounces of strings and when Shaw makes his entrance, there becomes this fulfilling arch of sound.
Almost as if serotonin was jumping through the hoops of sound, Shaw cordially invites the audience to a duet. In this performance there is the one focusing point on Shaw himself where the bounce and light touches of sound become a pasture to graze, then the other idea of intrigue forwards itself to the atmosphere sculpted.
Entirely through the love sound, Shaw is a uniquely tied artist with serious attention to reformation of performance. Begin The Beguine is a fantastic starting place for Shaw and allows little in forms of tampering with much of the original tonality of the recordings.