Daily Archives: May 31, 2012

EMILY ASHER’S DREAMS TAKE US ALOFT

Something good.  And about time!  It’s trombonist / singer / composer / arranger / bandleader Emily Asher’s debut CD, sweetly titled DREAMS MAY TAKE YOU.

Along with Emily, you will hear Wycliffe Gordon, on sousaphone and trombone; Bria Skonberg, trumpet, vocal; Philip Dizack, trumpet; Dan Levinson, tenor sax, clarinet; William Anderson, alto sax; Nick Russo, guitar, banjo; Gordon Webster, piano; Kelly Friesen, bass; Rob Adkins, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums; Rob Garcia, drums.  For those of you familiar with the hot New York scene, those names are a guarantee of fine swinging inventive jazz.

Much of the repertoire would appear to be “good old good ones,” including SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, but the CD is anything but by-the-numbers.  Emily is more than a fine trombonist and a sweetly winning singer: she is an imaginative musician, so the CD doesn’t bog down in the same thing; every track is its own vignette.

It begins with a romping version of ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE, which Emily delivers with a fine gutty fervor (and her own version of a trombone cadenza).  The soloists share Emily’s high-flying enthusiasm, and the rhythm sections couldn’t be better.  So the chestnuts have a delightful 2012 Condonite bounce and looseness.  The CD’s title comes from an Asher original — by Emily’s father — called LULLABY FOR A LITTLE ONE, on which Miss Asher sings with winsome charm.  (And she knows when to leave an audience wanting more: the LULLABY is a delicious cameo, slightly over two minutes.)  It’s followed by a New Orleans “second line” version of CHANGES MADE, which would cause the sedentary to start dancing.  The original SWEET PEA is part cowboy-ballad, part rocking barcarolle, with touches of Fifties West Coast cool arranging.  HEY, LOOK ME OVER is Emily’s childhood party piece — which begins in an easy waltz-time before morphing into sleek swing — that won me over when I saw her do it (with apt choreography) at Radegast.  A streamlined EMPEROR NORTON’S HUNCH has shed all its two-beat trappings, and bursts forth gracefully.  SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET features the duet stylings of Asher and Skonberg — neatly warbling the hip variations I associate with John Birks Gillespie — before the ensemble gives way to a piano / trombone duet.  Emily’s original GREAT BIG WALL will be the only song you know (I would guess) that mixes Latin rhythms and Middle Eastern tonalities.  Successfully, I must add.  YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE begins with a slide guitar / trombone duet and then blossoms, lyrically.  MUSKRAT RAMBLE begins with the Hot Five introduction and rocks from the first note (not too slow, not too fast, either) — with a splendidly tapping drum solo by Kevin Dorn in the middle.  SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, taken at a brisk clip, is another trombone-piano outing, very delicate in its earnestness, with a straight-from-the-shoulder vocal by Emily, taking the lyrics with a gentle seriousness that would have pleased its creator.  And the disc ends with LIMEHOUSE BLUES, a version that had the energy of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band of fabled memory.

Nothing’s dull or forced on this CD: it’s one of those rare creations where you want to play it over again when it ends.

I couldn’t attend Emily’s May 29 CD release party at Radegast — a true Garden Party, I hear — but the CD is its own jubilant party.  You can purchase one here — either as a digital download or a physical CD.

And the GP will be strolling around the New Jersey Jazz Society’s JAZZFEST on Saturday, June 16, which begins at noon and ends at 9 PM.  And when Emily and company need a rest, you can hear Jon Burr,  Lynn Stein, Andy Farber’s Swing Mavens featuring Champian Fulton, the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, the Tony DeSare trio, Eddie Monteiro, Swingadelic, and more.  Tickets can be ordered at 908.273.7827 or online at http://www.njjs.org.

Look out, world: here she comes!

May your happiness increase.

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THERE’S LIFE IN (AND BEYOND) THOSE GROOVES: THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS

I suspect that most people, asked to describe “a jazz record collector,” would create at best a gentle caricature.  It wouldn’t be too far from the general stereotype of someone who assorts, covets, arranges, and studies any kind of ancient artifact.  In the imagined cartoon, the man showing off his prize collection of mint Brunswick 78s by the Boswell Sisters is simply a cousin of the museum curator, happily dusty.

But stereotypes are meant to be exploded by reality, and many jazz record collectors have seen the daylight and know that there is life beyond the shelves, beyond their notebooks of sought-after discs.  One sign of life is the refreshing friskiness of the Journal of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors.  I would have written this blogpost a few weeks ago but I kept on finding new things to read in the March 2012 Journal . . . so I apologize for my tardiness but it is another sign of life.

I was entranced immediately by the cover — a comic portrait of trombonist Miff Mole, taken in Chicago in the early Fifties (courtesy of the jazz scholar Derek Coller): boys and girls, don’t try this at home without adult supervision.

Inside I found Bert Whyatt’s discography of the rough-and-tumble West Coast pianist Burt Bales (including recordings with Bunk Johnson and Frank Goudie), a chapter in Don Manning’s novel SWING HIGH! — its subject being an insider’s look at life on the road with a big band in the Forties.  I read an extensive affectionate report by Perry Huntoon on Jazz Ascona, and made my way through many CD reviews.

And that’s not all.  In an initial offering of jazz research done by Dr. Ian Crosbie — who sent questionnaires to many musicians and got remarkably candid answers, we learn from the Paul Whiteman reedman Charles Strickfadden that (in his opinion) Bill Challis’ arrangements for the Whiteman band were “melodic, uncomplicated, non-swinging . . . No affect on trend.”

In another section of the Journal I read a fascinating long letter by the scholar and current IAJRC President Geoffrey Wheeler — its focus on Charlie Parker’s RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO.  To give this its proper context, the previous issue of the Journal (December 2011) had an intriguing study of Parker’s actual stay at  the mental hospital located in Camarillo — written by William A. Pryor.  Wheeler adds this, which surprised me: “During a stay at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in the early 1950s, Parker was interviewed by a resident psychiatrist regarding his use of drugs.  At one point, the psychiatrist asked Parker if he wanted to give up drugs.  Parker’s response was an emphatic ‘no’!  . . . . This was related to me by a personal friend who was later on the staff at Bellevue and was told this by the attending psychiatrist.”

There’s more.  The IAJRC will be holding its annual convention in New Orleans (Sept. 6-8, 2012) and in addition to scholarly presentations and the opportunity to buy records, chat with fellow jazz enthusiasts, and tour the city, there will be live music, video presentations by Tom Hustad, Ruby Braff expert and author of the new book BORN TO PLAY, film scholar Mark Cantor, and jazz researcher Sonny McGown (the last one having as its subject the eccentric clarinetist Irving Fazola).  The banjoist and singer Michael Boving (of the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys) will speak about Eva Taylor touring Scandinavia in the Seventies — with filmclips, photos, recordings never heard — and he will be joined by Clarence Williams’ grandson, Spencer.   

To join the IAJRC and get in on the fun, click here.  To learn more about the convention, click here.

May your happiness increase.

THE PAST GIVES THE FUTURE A PRESENT: EHUD ASHERIE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, ALEX HOFFMAN at SMALLS (May 10, 2012)

The casually affecting improvisations that Ehud Asherie (piano), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), and Alex Hoffman created at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York) a few weeks ago don’t need much explication.

But to me they prove, once again, that improvisations on familiar chord sequences over a swinging 4 / 4 aren’t outmoded.  This music looks backwards as far as recorded jazz can — Ehud’s stride playing is deeply aware of ragtime and Fats Waller . . . but it also exemplifies the spiky brilliance of Bud Powell and Monk — while sounding just like Mr. Asherie.  Jon-Erik’s winding phrases shine with his admiration of Louis, Roy, and Ruby, but no one would mistake him for a player stuck in the grooves of recordings.  And Alex’s sweetly easeful tenor evokes Lester Young — but Alex knows the present and future.

The wonderful legerdemain of this performance is that it summons up an imagined 1938 Basie jam session brought whole into May 2012.  Delineations between Now and Then blur as these three masters savor the joys of serious play.

They began the second set with I NEVER KNEW — to me an empty statement, for these players certainly do know, no matter how much they protest otherwise:

Eloquent, romantic, pretty — James P. Johnson’s IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (to give it its full title):

Explicitly for Basie — Eddie Durham’s TOPSY (with superhero Kellso and his Magic Mute):

Equal time for Ellington, Webster, and Beatrix Potter — COTTON TAIL:

And — to close the session — a funky, slow-motion blues that pays homage to Bird and to “rhythm and blues,” NOW’S THE TIME:

An inspired trio!

May your happiness increase.