Some months back, I wrote an eager announcement of a new compact disc by Emily Asher’s Garden Party — a six-song tribute to Hoagy Carmichael, called CARNIVAL OF JOY. Truth in advertising! The disc is one of those creative efforts that grows deeper with each visit, and it balances exuberance, intelligence, and subtle understanding.
The facts. The personnel (are they Partiers or Gardeners or Garden Partiers?) are Emily Asher, trombone / vocals / arrangements; Mike Davis, trumpet / cornet / vocal; Tom Abbott, clarinet / alto saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Nick Russo, guitar / banjo; Sean Cronin, string bass (2, 4) / arrangement and vocal (6); Rob Adkins, string bass, 1, 3, 5, 6); Jay Lepley, drums. The songs: RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / LAZY BONES / JUBILEE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / BALTIMORE ORIOLE / ROCKIN’ CHAIR.
Click here to hear LAZY BONES from the CD — and, not incidentally, learn more about the many swinging exploits of our Ms. Asher.
I said above, “exuberance, intelligence, and deep understanding.” High praise and, for some, difficult to live up to. But not for Emily and her colleagues.
The exuberance comes through from the start of the disc. It’s not loud music (although there is the delightful possibility of good-humored raucousness on several of the tracks) but to me it felt very much like young Judy and Mickey with his father’s barn — the quality of “Let’s put on a show!” And the glee is authentic: it’s not the stagy “enthusiasm,” part of the act, we sometimes see.
What I perceive as “intelligence” and “deep understanding” come through in the thought-processes behind this disc. Tributes are sometimes easy ways for artists who haven’t decided who they are to masquerade as more remarkable ones — the more enlightened artists come to understand that wearing a gardenia in your hair may be an absolute impediment to understanding Billie Holiday or becoming one’s self.
But CARNIVAL OF JOY is not an attempt to copy hallowed recordings or performances. Of course I hear sly touches of Louis and Fats and Hoagy himself in these performances, but they are admiring glances rather than full-dress impersonations. Emily and her friends have understood something deep about the delicate balance between honoring the originals and creating something new, so each of the six songs here is a small, casual drama in itself — joyous or somber, wild or pensive (and in the case of ROCKIN’ CHAIR, nearly ominous) — with singing and playing that adeptly honor the song and carry its many messages straight to us.
I’ve been playing CARNIVAL OF JOY often, and my only reservation about the disc is that it contains six songs . . . not eighteen or more. Listen and see if you don’t agree. Thank you, Emily, Mike, Sean, Tom, Dalton, Nick, Rob, Jay, and of course Hoagy.
May your happiness increase!