Daily Archives: February 8, 2013

“DOOZY”!: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT SALUTES BENNY CARTER at the 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 28, 2012): MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, RENE HAGMANN, ALISTAIR ALLAN, MARTIN LITTON, SPATS LANGHAM, HENRI LEMAIRE, RICHARD PITE

Matthias Seuffert, that splendid chameleon so adept at becoming others while retaining his own shining identity, did it yet again at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — honoring Benny Carter in swinging, eloquent ways.  If you go back to the earliest and latest recordings in this set, it covers a thirty-year period beginning in 1931 . . . and looks fondly at memorable sessions with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Coleman Hawkins, Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, and other luminaries.

Matthias’ swinging cohorts here are Rene Hagmann, cornet (summoning up Carter’s elegantly astonishing trumpet work), Martin Litton, who had easily become Teddy Wilson earlier in the Party; Alistair Allan, nimbly filling out the ensembles and adding a fine Swing Era flavor; Spats Langham, guitar; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, marshaling forces in subtle unity.

JUST A MOOD — on paper, just a simple line, but the results are so elegant, living up to the title:

SMACK — evoking the 1940 “Chocolate Dandies” Fletcher Henderson-alumni session for Commodore Records.  Matthias wasn’t looking at me while I was behind the camera, but the grin on his face during Martin Litton’s solo must have mirrored mine:

BLUE INTERLUDE — going back to the 1933 “Dandies” session, tenderly, with sweetly heroic playing from Rene and Martin over a delicious rhythm section sweep, leading up to a marvelous evocation of The King by Matthias:

DOOZY — a swinging blues created at the 1961 “Further Definitions” session.  A “doozy” is defined as something extraordinary — true enough here:

BLUES IN MY HEART — a lyrical masterpiece Carter returned to often, and this version summons up a divine trio of Benny, Art Tatum, and Louis Bellson, with Martin Litton and Richard Pite hailing the departed giants:

WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW — with the correct changes for the bridge — great swinging fun:

This set was a great highlight — not only of the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — but of the year.  A tribute to The King by some of his most regal subjects!

And, not incidentally, tickets are still available here for the 2013 Party . . . but I can’t guarantee that this will always be the case.

May your happiness increase.

“SWING, STRIDE”: STEVE GRANT at the PIANO (2012)

swingstride

This CD is accurately titled.  Pianist Steve Grant (from Australia) does both — neatly, wittily, and spicily.  The disc’s subtitle is “some good old jazz favorites,” which is also truth in advertising.

There aren’t any liner notes for the disc, so I hope Mr. Grant forgives me if I write the lines that I think should be there.

Many players in these idioms good-naturedly make the error of overwhelming the listener with their technique.  An Ellington original — a stride showpiece eighty years before this — was called LOTS O’FINGERS, and they take that ornateness as their goal.  Volume and tempo follow, and the result can be a density that is impressive but exhausting.

Not Steve Grant.  He can play at rapid tempos (the opening SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is anything but languid, and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN suggests high tides!) but his playing is lucid, clear.

I thought of the 1935-7 Wilson solos (with a more experimental harmonic range), anchored by a light stride bass opened up with walking tenths and rhythmic suspensions.  Grant is not a gifted imitator, stringing together phrases laboriously learned from the recordings: he is an improviser, going where his impulses lead him.

On each track, he shows himself to be a master of implying: he doesn’t stress or lean on the listener, “Look!  I can really Get Hot, can’t I?”  Rather, a Grant solo is a series of small playful excursions, “Was that a tango I just heard going by?  Quick, look out the window!”  But he leaves himself and the listener a good deal of space, and the overall effect is, “That’s so simple.  If I practiced a bit more, I could play like that,” what I call the Bing Crosby Effect.  Another illusion, as anyone who sits down at the piano finds out.

Most of the tracks toddle along at a rocking medium tempo, but each one has its own delightful explosions.  LAURA, for instance, is full of quite remarkable right-hand arpeggios that show a harmonic imagination that’s anything but simple.  THE MIDNIGHT SUN combines optimism and melancholy with understated emotional power.  And Grant makes it possible to hear BODY AND SOUL without decades of familiar accretions on its hull.

But Grant — because he seems to be so simple — continually tricks us.  The first chorus of THESE FOOLISH THINGS might lull us into complacency,”Oh, he’s just playing the melody,” and then we wouldn’t notice the sweet, quietly subversive things he does in the choruses that follow.  Only a musician with a deep sense of humor and an expansive conception of what it means to improvise would or could create such rewarding music.  This CD is well worth investigating, and I’ve kept on being surprised by it on repeated playings.

The disc offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / LAURA / BABY WONTCHA PLEASE COME HOME (I reproduce this title exactly) / THE MIDNIGHT SUN WILL NEVER SET / THESE FOOLISH THINGS / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / BODY AND SOUL / DID I REMEMBER / PASSPORT TO PARADISE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD.  It was recorded in the Echidna Studios, Yarra Glen.

Here’s the SHOP page on his website.  And here you can hear other solo performances recorded at home — I hope I won’t hurt his feelings by saying the piano sound is less than studio-quality.  (P.S.  As Julius Yang has pointed out below, it’s a kind of electronic piano.  So I hope I did not hurt Steve’s or the piano’s feelings.)

But the playing is delightful.  (As an aside, I first heard Grant on record as a shining member of Bob Barnard’s crew — at the jazz parties captured on NifNuf Records — then as a cornetist, superbly, alongside guitarist John Scurry on a Judy Carmichael trio CD — details here — he is something special!)

May your happiness increase.