Monthly Archives: November 2012

LUCKY THIRTEEN: A NIGHT with the SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY (Monday, November 5, 2012) featuring JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, MATT MUNISTERI, EHUD ASHERIE, PAT O’LEARY, MARION FELDER

The days slip away, and I see that I haven’t written a word about the final 2012 concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — an evening devoted to Sidney’s involvement with the New Orleans trumpet players.  Even though he said he disliked trumpeters because they got in his way, Sidney played alongside the very best.  This band at the Kaye Playhouse evoked but didn’t copy the great recordings he made:  in their thirteen performances, they managed not only to summon up Bechet’s musical worlds from 1925 on, but suggested how his spirit animated music being made in November 2012.

In short, a hot time was had by all.  

The members of this band exuded the fraternal delight one would expect from long-time comrades: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary are regular EarRegulars, with Evan Christopher an honored guest; Ehud Asherie and Marion Felder bring their own associations with sessions at Smalls and Birdland to the mix.

The first half of the concert was a more formal evocation of the title and of the hallowed recordings (some of them rather complex songs with multiple themes) highlighted by three vigorous romps — WEARY BLUES and I FOUND A NEW BABY (harking back to the 1932 Feetwarmers session with Tommy Ladnier and Hank Duncan); CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME (honoring Bechet’s early collaboration — or battle — with young Louis Armstrong on Clarence Williams’ dates).

A slower COAL CART BLUES swung with all its might, even though the tempo was less arduous (echoing the 1940 Decca “reunion” session for George Avakian’s NEW ORLEANS JAZZ album).  Three mood pieces took seriously divergent directions: Matt sang BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME in his own half-earnest, half-ironic way, very combustible; Evan took center stage for one of Bechet’s Haitian rhapsodies, TROPICAL MOON (“kind of a funky thing”) which had everyone swaying . . . as did the band’s EGYPTIAN FANTASY — with an “exotic” flavor that also drew on the “Spanish tinge.”

After an intermission during which we all could compare tales of Storm Sandy (many in the audience, I think, were going home to dark cold houses and apartments), the band reassembled for a looser second half . . . as if they had done their required assignment and could now play a bit more.

Some of the repertoire for the second half was drawn from the Kellso-Christopher-Munisteri BLUE ROOF BLUES: A LOVE LETTER TO NEW ORLEANS (Arbors) — one of the most completely realized jazz CDs I know: an intoxicating habanera-flavored PANAMA, a street-parade HIGH SOCIETY, with the famous Picou chorus played softly at first; Kellso’s lyrical JUST LIKE THAT, Evan’s intense improvisation on Tommy Ladnier’s MOJO BLUES, a solo feature for Ehud on WILLOW TREE, where Art Tatum, Cliff Jackson, and Christopher Columbus came for brief visits with Mr. Asherie; the concert ended with a rousing HINDUSTAN, with the always-surprising and always-gratifying key changes.

It was a great band: Marion Felder is one of those exalted drummers who cares deeply about sound, dynamics, and rhythms — a phenomenon rarer than you might think.  He will patiently stay on his snare drum or tom-toms and play simple rhythms for their sweetly intensifying dramatic effect; he can play a song as did Zutty Singleton but he’s always playing himself.  Pat O’Leary stayed in the background, but he is one of the essential guiding forces of any ensemble: his tone, taste, and choice notes keep everyone focused on melodic swing.

Matt Munisteri never fails to surprise: guitarists marvel at his technique, but I marvel more at the way every kind of music seems to osmotically work its way through him — and the end result never seems like a conscious synthesis.  Ehud Asherie continues to delight: his deep soulful range, bridging Then and Now, is a pleasure — because the influences have long since become a cohesive artistic whole, without one saying, “Oh, there’s a Fats lick!” again.

The horn players, as we have come to expect, worked together in friendship but there was the slightest edge of playful tussling — the kind of sweet competition that makes sessions rise above the ordinary.  Both of them are instantly recognizable, with big sounds: you know who’s playing in a bar or two, and the restrained intensity bubbles with elegant down-home ferocity.

It was fun — in case you haven’t guessed.  I’ll say more about the 2013 concerts when we cross into the spring.

May your happiness increase.

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TATE, MODERN: FRANK TATE and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

Bassist Frank Tate is a modest sort — at one point in this set, he says that when he and pianist Rossano Sportiello do a concert together, it’s Rossano’s band . . . but we shouldn’t underestimate Mr. Tate, whose lyrical melodies sustain any group — in addition to his beautiful tone, fine choice of notes, harmonic sensitivity, and deep rhythm.

Here are Frank and Rossano onstage at Jazz at Chautauqua — bringing serene swing to that glorious weekend:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY:

RHYTHM CHANGES:

YOUNG AND FOOLISH:

JUST AS THOUGH YOU WERE THERE:

IDAHO:

What a band!

May your happiness increase.

BREAKING NEWS OF 1942: PEE WEE ERWIN LAUNCHES OWN NAME IN THE BIG TIME!

This full-page advertisement (a musical history in photographs) comes from the 1942 Conn instruments advertisement book / brochure.  It’s a delightful piece of ancient musical history but also serves as a reason to celebrate George “Pee Wee” Erwin, one of the great yet underrated lyrically hot trumpeters for more than four decades.  Early on (as the photographs show) he worked with Joe Haymes, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Ray Noble, Tommy Dorsey — in that latter situation, being asked in 1937 to follow Bunny Berigan, a nearly impossible task.  I don’t know how long his 1942 fame lasted, but after the end of the Swing Era he led memorable small “Dixieland” bands at Nick’s and Lou Terassi’s . . . I saw him play in 1974 as part of Bob Greene’s THE WORLD OF JELLY ROLL MORTON — in a concert recorded and issued on RCA Victor (the other members of the band were Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford, Alan Cary, Herb Hall, and Ephie Resnick).  Late in life Pee Wee was able to record several relaxed, unhackneyed sessions under his own name for the Qualtro label — one a duet with Bucky Pizzarelli, others just as sweetly expert.

I don’t understand how someone “Launches own Name IN THE BIG TIME,” but perhaps that’s why I was never an advertising copywriter.

As a lead trumpeter or a hot soloist, he is someone we miss!

May your happiness increase.

BLOCK BRINGS IT: DAN BLOCK, HARRY ALLEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, BILL RANSOM at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

Everyone knows Dan Block as a dazzling reed player — clarinet, alto, tenor, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, flute — but I had only heard of his trumpet playing.  When he brought that horn to the stage at Jazz at Chautauqua this September, I was delighted . . . and I wasn’t alone.

And he was in superb company — tenorist Harry Allen, pianist Rossano Sportiello, string bassist Jon Burr, and drummer Bill Ransom.

Here are two extended performances from their brilliant set.

BLUE SKIES morphs into IN WALKED BUD and then back to its Berlin roots:

THE MAN I LOVE begins with Harry playing the verse most prettily, then has a rewarding section where he and Jon Burr evoke the duet of Don Byas and Slam Stewart so many decades ago, then — as if by mutual amused inspiration — everyone quotes ISN’T SHE LOVELY at another later point.  The standards aren’t exhausted by any means in the hands of these players:

And just a brief reminder — Dan and gifted friends Ray Gallon, Tim Horner, Chris Haney, Paul Meyers, and Scott Robinson will be appearing in a late-night set at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street, New York) this Thursday, November 15.  Details here.

May your happiness increase.

LES SWINGBERRIES: “LAUGHING AT LIFE” (2012)

Imagine a small group — in Whitney Balliett’s words, “flesible, wasteless,” that successfully evokes the best jazz of the Swing Era without copying recorded performances, that is fresh, witty, precise.  Need an anlalogue?  How about Glenn Miller’s Uptown Hall Gang with arrangements and originals by Mel Powell?

This group exists, and they’ve made their first CD — consistently splendid music.    A few of my readers complain that my musical endorsements are nudging them towards ruin, but LES SWINGBERRIES are worth it.

About thirteen months ago, I wrote happily about this group — propelled by their 2011 YouTube videos: click here for that post.

One of the video performances that so captivated me is Les Swingberries’ transformation of Johann Strauss’ RADETZKY MARCH (“JAZZETSKY MARCH” in their hands):

From left to right, they are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet / arrangements; Aurelie Tropez, clarinet; Jacques Schneck, piano; Nicolas Montier, guitar.  I haven’t had any contact with Monsieur Schneck, but I admire his light, elegant playing immensely; Monsieur Etcheberry has absorbed all of the good trumpet sounds of this fertile time and processed them through his instrument so that he sounds like himself (with side-glances at the great figures).  Our contact has been limited to mail and cyber-message, but how could I not admire a man who signs himself “Trumpetfully yours“?  (The only inscription that comes close to that is from Hot Lips Page: “Very Blowingly.”)

I’ve been fortunate enough to exchange a few sentences with Mlle. Tropez at the International Jazz Festival at Whitley Bay — where she was not only a charter member of Les Red Hot Reedwarmers but also played some memorable casual swing duets with pianist Paul Asaro.

And Monsier Montier I met for the first time (I hope there will be others) as a wonderfully agile tenor saxophonist at last year’s Sacramento Music Festival.  It came as a huge shock to find out that he is the immensely gifted guitarist in this group, not only echoing Charlie Christian but also Tiny Grimes and a host of other fine players.

But I hear you saying, “OK, I’m sold.  But I can’t fly to France to catch this group in a club or jazz festival.  What shall I do?”

The answer, dear readers, is only a few clicks away.  Les Swingberries have issued their first CD, which is called LAUGHING AT LIFE — not only a song they play but an indication of their buoyant spirits.

The thirteen selections on the disc are varied and lively — two Mary Lou Williams compositions, CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE; Leonard Feather’s SCRAM!  Three other themes are “classics” by Strauss, Tschaikovsky, and Offenbach — initially, I thought of the John Kirby Sextet, but then the heretical whisper came into my mind, “This is better than the Kirby Sextet ever did,” because of a light-hearted rhythmic looseness owing something more to Wilson and Waller than to Kirby.  The group seems to float, and the performances seem too brief (although they are between three and five minutes).  The arrangements are beautifully subtle; on a second or third listening, I found myself marveling at the writing for two horns that suggested a larger ensemble; the fact that a rhythm section of piano and guitar never seemed thin or under-furnished.

Both CLOUDY and GHOST OF LOVE are lovely mobile mood pieces with inspired playing by each member of the quartet.  LAUGHING AT LIFE has equally hip writing / voicing / harmonized lines that suggest an unissued Keynote Records session tenderly waiting for a twenty-first century jazz archaeologist to uncover it for us.  The group lights up BLUE ROOM and HALLELUJAH! from within; the remaining four performances are originals — one a funny tribute to Rex Stewart, REXPIRATION (where the rhythm section gets some of the waiting-for-Benny feeling of Christian and Johnny Guarnieri, always a good thing).  SCHNECK IT OUT has surprising harmonies yet a walking-down-the-street feeling I associate with YACHT CLUB SWING.  BERRY CRUMBLE is built on BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, but in such a sly way that it would take any listener two or three minutes to uncover those familiar harmonies.

Listening to this CD, I never had the feeling of surfeit that many CDs produce (“Oh, this has been wonderful . . . but eight more tracks?”) — it is a subtle, enriching musical experience, and a lot of fun.

I have some trepidation about delivering my readers into the Land of Downloads, but here is the link to the iTunes site — where one can purchase a song for 0.99 or the whole CD for 10.99. Or, if you prefer your music delivered by the Amazon conglomerate, here is their link.

May your happiness increase.

SWING NOIR in THE BACK ROOM: SVETLANA SHMULYIAN, LOLLO MEIER, ADRIAN CUNNINGHAM, TED GOTTSEGEN, BRANDI DISTERHELF, GEORGE MEL (October 15, 2012)

The Back Room Speakeasy (102 Norfolk Street, off of Delancey Street, New York 10002) is authentic in several ways.  One is that you need to know the password to enter — for one of Svetlana Shmulyian’s Monday night gigs, the password is issued that day and you may message Sveltana for it.  Alcoholic beverages are served in porcelain coffee cups (with saucers) to give the illusion of Prohibition-era behavior.  “The room prefers classy — though not formal — attire and there is a no-fur policy,” which brings us into this century.  And vigorous swing dancing is encouraged.

When I visited there for the first time, on October 15, Svetlana was delighted to have the gypsy jazz guitar master Lollo Meier with her — as well as the native guitar wizard Ted Gottsegen, reed master Adrian Cunningham, the fine bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer George Mel.

Here are two classic selections that will give you a flavor of the scene, of the enthusiastic band, and of Svetlana’s fine graceful singing.

EMBRACEABLE YOU:

I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

Tomorrow, Monday, November 12, Svetlana will be back with her Delancey Five and special guest Stéphane Séva (the splendid washboard virtuoso and romantic singer).  Adrian Cunningham will return; Jesse Gelber will offer his own individualistic piano stylings; the excellent rhythm section will feature guitarist Ilya Lushtak, string bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Stephan Schatz.

Svetlana and her Cast of Characters are there every Monday — except the first Monday of the month — so knock three times to enter an authentic Scene.

Ask Svetlana for the password (you won’t get in without it — and, regrettably, it’s not “JAZZ LIVES sent me”) and have a Singapore Sling in my honor.

And when you come out onto the street, you can resume your normal shade, whatever it might be.

P.S.  Troy Hahn, who runs the Monday night soirees at the Back Room, tells me that the password and photographs are posted on the room’s Facebook site every Monday night . . . so check it out here.

May your happiness increase.

“A LOST JAZZ TREASURE”: TURK MURPHY’S SAN FRANCISCO JAZZ BAND / LIVE 1973

A child of the East Coast, I didn’t grow up listening to Turk Murphy — and I retained a New Yorker’s mild disdain for “that style” because the sounds that first made their way into my heart were more Commodore and Teddy Wilson, more Basie and Hackett.

But on my most recent California stay, I bought a copy of the Columbia NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (with trumpeter Birch Smith and the most exalted Don Ewell) and my disdain began to drop away.  Emboldened, I also acquired a “new” Turk Murphy CD — unissued live material from 1973 — which had the dual imprimatur of Leon Oakley and John Gill (whose notes are delightful).

The band had a powerful front line — Turk, Leon, and the magnificent Bob Helm — supported by Pete Clute, piano; Bill Carroll, tuba; Carl Lunsford, banjo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP / SEE SEE RIDER / DUSTY RAG / SILVER DOLLAR / SUGAR FOOT STRUT / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / TOM CAT BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / CHIMES BLUES / DOCTOR JAZZ / THE PEARLS / THE TORCH / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEXAS MOANER / WILLIE THE WEEPER / RAGGED BUT RIGHT / SIDEWALK BLUES / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / BAY CITY.

Obviously the repertoire owes a good deal to Oliver and Morton, but the overall effect is what I think of as mid-Twenties Chicago, with Leon’s powerful attack being matched by Helm’s sinuous, graceful lines.  Turk’s trombone is reliably gutty, marking out the bottom.  And there are little subtleties: the way the horns support the tuba melody on SEE SEE RIDER; the prancing motion of DUSTY RAG, the easy romp of SUGAR FOOT STRUT.  The rhythm section on KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES has every note, every nuance in place.  Although the band charges into DOCTOR JAZZ (with the verse), the performances are varied in tempo and dynamics — this isn’t a band playing at the top of its range on every song.  All the strains and breaks in WOLVERINE BLUES, NEW ORLEANS JOYS, and THE PEARLS are beautifully in place, with not a hint of the museum around them.  And THE TORCH is a peerless piece of Americana.

For those who are wary of “unissued” “live” recordings, the sound on this one is first-rate — recorded close to the band with all six instruments nicely balanced, not drowned out by audience enthusiasm — and it’s a generous seventy-two minutes.

To purchase this CD (MMRC-CD-48) contact the Merry Makers Record Company at their toll-free number, 1-866-563-4433, or click here.

May your happiness increase.