On April 17, when I wrote a few lines about this wonderful hot band (see UNION RHYTHM KINGS) I had already had the pleasure of hearing several tracks from their debut CD on their MySpace page. Now, through the kindness of Trygve Hernaes, the CD’s executive producer, I’ve heard the disc, called A HOT REUNION. That it is! Astonishing music, precise yet abandoned, fierce yet relaxed — the qualities that characterizes the best jazz, perhaps the finest art. And the band’s “heat” is not a matter of speed and volume; most of the performances on this disc are at at medium tempos, but they swing and stomp remarkably.
The band title, I now know, harks back to the peaceable union of Norway and Sweden (1814-1905), and it’s not a history lesson. Three members of the URK (Bent Persson, cornet / trumpet; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, banjo/guitar) are Swedish; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds, and Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, are Norwegian. A most equitable balance, giving new meaning to the idea of a “mixed band.” Kristoffer and Lars are stars of the Jazzin’ Babies; Bent, Frans, and Jacob play and record as the Hot Jazz Trio, and Morten is an institution unto himself.
The CD pays tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and (by extension) Bing Crosby with AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, THE LOVE NEST, YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, WA-DA-DA, RHYTHM KING, JAZZ ME BLUES, and ROYAL GARDEN BLUES; it honors Louis and King Oliver with KEYHOLE BLUES and CHATTANOOGA STOMP; Jelly Roll Morton has his moments with THE CHANT, KANSAS CITY STOMPS, THE PEARLS, and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP. That would be enough for anyone — but this band has a particular fondness for the music that Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham made while members of the Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the hottest band on record in 1929-30: the URK revisits DOCTOR BLUES and HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES.
Some readers might think, “Do I really need another version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”?
Yes, when the Union Rhythm Kings play it.
Much of the repertoire above from 1923-30 has already been explored by “traditional” bands all over the world. And if you were to listen to all those recordings, an arduous task, you would note many “recreations” and many “improvisations.” Some bands feel that the only way to pay our ancestors proper homage is to treat the Victors, OKehs, and Gennetts as sacred text to be copied note for note. Although this can be electrifying when done expertly in concert, for example, it has serious philosophical limitations. And simply “jamming” on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, for instance, means that once the players are through the first two strains, it’s a medium-tempo blues, perhaps characterless.
The URK steer between these two extremes: their performances take inspiration, shape, and often tempos from the originals, but the solos are fresh, inventive. And the results are glorious. Hearing CHATTANOOGA STOMP, I thought, for the first time, “This must have been what the Creole Jazz Band really sounded like.” Now, it didn’t hurt that each man here is a brilliant soloist, “tops on his instrument for tonation and phrasing,” and that each soloist knows the repertoire intimately. But they all are brilliant team players. Often, collections of “all-stars” turn out to be exercises in ego, muted or open, with the players less concerned about creating a band than about playing their solo. Nothere.
And the CD is brimful with additional delights: on-target notes by trumpeter Mike Durham (who really can write!), and beautiful SACD Surround Sound.
I originally wanted to title this post THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW, but I thought my esoteric reference to the marijuana culture of the Thirties might be too arcane. But mellow the music is, indeed.
You can purchase this CD by contacting the producer, Trygve Hernaes, at Sonor as/Herman Records, Postbox 4275, NO-7436 Trondheim, Norway, or via email: email@example.com., or firstname.lastname@example.org. A CD costs $25, and payments can be made only by MasterCard or Visa, but this hot music is worth the effort. I look forward to many more such reunions!