I feel as if I’ve been listening to recorded music all my life, and the discs and tapes I’ve managed to acquire certainly testify to this.
Long-time listeners like myself are also involuntary editors, revisers, and critics. Put on a new CD and we want to enjoy it wholly, but often the small whirring section of the brain that points out details comes in to play. “I’m so glad they are playing that song, but why at that tempo?” “Great band, but adding a trombone would have been even nicer.” “Did that soloist have to stop after one chorus?” You get the idea.
We can’t help ourselves, and the Ideal Sound we hold in our heads — imagined, rarely heard — can be an awful burden.
Thus, it’s a real pleasure to alert you to a new CD, so special that I could instantly tell the critical cortex to take a nap. It’s that good.
I had heard and admired Steve for some years through recordings, but when I heard him in person for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, I was even more impressed with his depth of feeling and immersion in the music.
He doesn’t offer anything formulaic; he creates wonderful melodies and generous, leafy counterpoint; his pulse is always irresistible, even on a slow blues. Many capable players build little stylistic boxes and settle in for the duration: it could be their planned approach to the material, their choice of songs, the way they envision their bands.
Steve is more a free-floating spirit, with his goal being to inhabit every song fully as its own musical performance. No artifice, nothing but a kind of light-hearted yet inense candor, which makes his work sing . . . even when he isn’t. What he creates isn’t “traditional” or “New Orleans” or “Dixieland” jazz — but swinging dance music with a new rhythm for every track.
All of that would sound as if this were another Pistorius solo recital: rocking piano that bridges old traditions and new energies, and witty yet heartfelt singing of ballads, blues, naughty songs, and stomps.
But there’s much more on NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE, because it’s a quartet with Orange Kellin, clarinet; James Evans, clarinet and alto saxophone; Tyler Thomson, string bass. To the purists, that might seem like an incomplete band, but this quartet is richly fulfilling. They don’t strive to offer contemporary copies of anyone from the Apex Club Orchestra to Soprano Summit: they sound like four generous fellows having a wonderful time in an informal setting. Not the clamor of angry stellar jays fighting for primacy in a nearby tree; nothing shrill or loud, just communal fun in sweet exploration.
The quartet neatly and surprisingly balances the rough, even raw possibilities of the clarinet with the elegance of the alto, and it’s all supported by Steve’s left hand and the buoyant playing of Thomson, a gifted player in the school of Pops Foster and Milt Hinton. I’ve always admired the fierce honesty of Orange Kellin’s playing: he plays like a man speaking his inmost thoughts — but those thoughts swing as they tumble out of him. James Evans is new to me, and he is also a fine clarinetist, but I was even more impressed by his honeyed alto playing — the way people who weren’t wooed away by Bird stuck to their original impulses about saxophone playing.
The quartet is a model small community, where something engaging is always going on, players trading melody and improvisation, lead and counterpoint. And the beat goes on from the first note to the last. The repertoire is immensely delightful — songs by Bechet, Dodds, Tony Jackson, Jelly, Natty Dominique, Bill Whitmore, Joe Oliver, but also by Berlin, Carmichael, Lorenzo Barcelata, Albert Howard, and Paul Dresser — a far cry from the done-to-death songs that characterize “traditional” playing: NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE / BABY, I’D LOVE TO STEAL YOU / DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES / BECHET’S FANTASY / BULL FIDDLE BLUES ? WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / WORKING MAN BLUES / MARIA ELENA / LADY LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES / JUBILEE / AS TU LE CAFARD / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME / GEORGIA CABIN / MY GAL SAL. Nicely recorded in several 2013 sessions. Honest, lively, feeling music.
I wish this were a working and touring band, and that I had a whole sheaf of videos of it to share with you. But I don’t. You’ll have to trust me about just how good this disc is.
To purchase a copy, please send $20 to the Man Himself (no rolls of quarters, please — check or IMO): Steve Pistorius, 306 Florida Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124. And something better than the usual bills will soon be in your mailbox. “I guarantee it,” as Justin Wilson used to say.
May your happiness increase!