Daily Archives: January 11, 2013

FOUR BEAUTIES FOR MR. EVANS: HOWARD ALDEN, SCOTT ROBINSON, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

Most of the music I hear on the jazz-party circuit stops at an invisible wall labeled 1945 or BEBOP, as if harmonic extensions and rhythmic shifts were a kind of influenza.  Of course the musicians slip in and out of larger conceptions of improvised music all the time, but if they don’t announce to a traditionally-minded audience, “We’re now going to play something you won’t like,” no one notices.

And some more “modern” listeners dismiss anything that sounds “old” as “that corny shit,” which is equally sad.  It is as if jazz was a small country, and crossing the border meant you couldn’t come in.  Or as if there were Dixieland or avant-garde cooties.  You get the idea.

Rigidity like this reminds me of children who burst into tears if the mustard is not on the hot dog in the appropriate way.  At what point does one’s “comfort zone” become confining?

But it’s all MUSIC, and those who can hear more deeply than the surface find rewards they might not have expected.

Thus, when Messrs. Alden (guitar), Robinson (tenor saxophone), Burr (string bass), and Malichi (drums) embarked on a set of Bill Evans’ compositions at Jazz at Chautauqua, I was delighted.  Not, mind you, because I am an Evans fan or conoisseur, particularly.  But I thought, “I could hear something new — something not IF I HAD YOU — and I trust the four players on the stand are people who will lead me into beauty, whatever the name of the songs are.”

The music proves it.  Yes, to some listeners in that audience, these four selections were unfamiliar, even angular — but they swung and the melodies were often sweet.  Worth the trip, and worth suspending one’s anxious prejudices for some part of an hour.  Hear for yourself.

FIVE:

VERY EARLY:

TURN OUT THE STARS:

FUNKALLERO:

This post is dedicated to Bob Rusch, Stu Zimny, and my father, who would say to me, “How do you know that you won’t like it if you won’t even taste it?”

May your happiness increase.

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“CHICAGO STYLE — HOT AND LYRICAL”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: “LIVE FROM LACEY 2012”

Pianist / singer / composer Ray Skjelbred has been making lively, fervent hot jazz on his own and with congenial souls for a few decades now, and although he is a presence on the West Coast jazz scene, we can’t get enough of his music.  A new compact disc by Ray’s small group, the Cubs, is an event.

The most recent one, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO, on the Jazzology label, was a delight — but it was recorded in the studio.

cubs_live

This brand-new issue from Orangapoid Records catches the Cubs in performance on June 29-30, 2012 at America’s Classic Dixieland Festival in Olympia, Washington (or more precisely, at St. Martin’s College in Lacey).  The gifted recordist and enthusiast Joe Spencer took down what everyone heard, and a swinging disc is the result. (The sound is what you would hear if you were sitting right in front of the band: it’s much much better than a homemade location recording, and what might be lost in the frequency range here or there can be adjusted by the listener . . . besides, there’s none of that nagging studio tension so prevalent in current CDs.)

The Cubs are comprised of Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocals; Ray, piano / vocals; Katie Cavera, guitar / vocals; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / vocals.  And the repertoire is characteristically delightful — some surprises and songs that haven’t been played into oblivion: A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / HINES RHYTHM / YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal Kim) / TWO DEUCES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / WAILING BLUES / I LIKE TO DO THINGS FOR YOU (vocal Katie) / I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU / EC-STACY / ONE, TWO, BUTTON YOUR SHOE (vocal Katie) / I FOUND A NEW BABY / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU (vocal Ray) / FAN IT / WHAT’S THE REASON I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU (vocal Hal) / OH, BABY!

The music on this disc — relaxed and heated at the same time — has many virtues.  For one, this is a band.  You can hear the musicians listening to one another (I can see them smiling at what they are hearing) and there is a wonderful communal spirit here — it’s not a group of people running through their familiar solos on the usual tunes, but much more like a bunch of children at play, gleefully discovering what they can make happen for their (and our) collective pleasure.  Because I think of the Cubs as a jazz community, I won’t do the usual encomia of each player — but will say only that this CD will bring joy.

Having said that I won’t . . . a few quiet thoughts are in order.  Skjelbred is one of the most delightful band pianists I know — his lines and comments sneak in, amuse, support, and uplift.  And he is such a delicious soloist.  And the spiritual leader of one of the best rhythm sections on the planet — enabling three superb musicians (Clint, Katie, and Hal) to play celestially.  And isn’t it about time to start skywriting praise of Kim Cusack?  Not simply as a clarinetist or a saxophonist or a singer but as a great improvising musician who knows how to make us stomp or laugh or weep.  An absolute master.  There!  The truth is out.

Here’s Rae Ann Berry’s video of the Cubs at that very festival, playing YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER — just so you know how fine the music on this CD is:

You can purchase the CD (and others) by visiting Ray’s site here.  The price is $18 including shipping.  Or you can send a check for that amount to ORANGAPOID RECORDS, 19526 40th Place N.E., Lake Forest Park, WA 98155.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase. 

MARTIN LITTON and HIS RED HOT PEPPERS PLAY JELLY ROLL MORTON at WHITLEY BAY 2012: ENRICO TOMASSO, KRISTOFFER KOMPEN, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, MICHAEL McQUAID, MARTIN WHEATLEY, MALCOLM SKED, NICK WARD (October 26, 2012)

Perhaps more than any other composer / performer / arranger / imaginative figure in the history of pre-1950 jazz, Fredinand “Jelly Roll” Morton left us with very strong — even severe — conceptions of how his music should be played.

Although he advocated for “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” many latter-day bands approach Morton in an almost militaristic manner, as if the lessons of the Master were to hit those beats hard and play the recorded solos exactly as they were done in the Victor studios.  James Dapogny shows a more expansive approach to Morton’s music, and — in this rewarding set of music at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — so does the soft-spoken Martin Litton.

Martin never superimposes his own vision on Morton’s so that the original is obliterated, but one hears him treating the music with an easy curiosity, as if the “originals” were so durable that they could stand a little experimentation.  At times it seems that Litton’s reimaginings are floating alongside the recordings we knows so well — alternate takes in a parallel universe.  And completely delightful.

Given the musicians he assembled — Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert and Michael McQuaid, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Maetin Wheatley, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Nick Ward, drums — how could we be blue?

KING PORTER STOMP:

BEALE STREET BLUES:

OIL WELL:

MILENBERG JOYS:

BILLY GOAT STOMP (animal effects courtesy of the very gracious Mr. Ward, hardly seen but certainly heard here):

WOLVERINE BLUES:

Mister Morton, very strict, would have been pleased.  No doubt.

May your happiness increase.