Daily Archives: April 25, 2014

SPLENDID SWING: THE BASIN STREET BRAWLERS, “IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT”

I encounter a number of youthful players who have formed improvising bands. Many of these small orchestras, to my delight, attempt to bring their own personalities — ferocious or tender — to the great repertoire of the last century. But few of them succeed so consistently as a new British group, THE BASIN STREET BRAWLERS.  Their debut CD, IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT, is a recent issue — a limited edition of 500 copies — and I encourage you to investigate both the band and the disc.

BRAWLERS

Here’s their “showreel,” a collection of samples from their live performances:

You’ll notice certain things from this video tasting menu: the band has a light, easy bounce; trumpeter Peter Horsfall is a concise, lyrical player and an especially fine singer.  (Imagine if Bob Howard or Louis Prima had been born in London — swinging, impassioned, but never overstated.)  The rest of the band is equally convincing, never trying too hard, but gently leaning into the swing winds: trombonist / vocalist Malcolm Earle-Smith and guitar master Martin Wheatley (whom I’ve seen and admired often at Whitley Bay) are the official representatives from a slightly older generation, but they fit right in with clarinetist / saxophonist Ewan Bleach, pianist Colin Good, string bassist Dave O’Brien, and drummer Mez Clough.

The repertoire on this CD — structured with a beginning, middle, and end — says a great deal about this band’s love and expertise — with small evocations of Teddy Wilson, Louis, Jack Teagarden, Goodman small groups, and more: A SMOOTH ONE (Intro) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS / IF ONLY YOU KNEW (an original hinting at Hodges and Strayhorn) / ALL MY LIFE / HOW AM I TO KNOW? / STARS FELL ON ALABAMA / ONCE IN A WHILE / IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT! / SWING THAT MUSIC / A SMOOTH ONE (Outro) / LOTUS BLOSSOM (Bonus track).  There’s even two very brief but pleasing appearances by one Natty Bo as “guest M.C.”

It’s beautifully recorded at the renowned Porcupine Studios, and the CD is a consistent pleasure.

(I didn’t have to do any mind-editing: “Oh, this would be wonderful if only _____ didn’t do this,” which dogs some of the new CDs I am asked to comment on.)

If you’d like to purchase the CD — an indication of sound judgment, I think, the best place is the “SHOP” section of the band’s website. For those who can’t wait for a physical disc, they can be satisfied by a download here. Candidly, as engaging as the “showreel” is, the CD is even more rewarding.

Once I heard the music, I became both advocate and fan. But I had one quibble — with the band’s chosen appellation. I admired the alliteration, but asked Peter if he was fully aware of the connotations of “brawlers.” (Yes, Yeats referred to a sparrow making that noise in the eaves, but I somehow thought this was not an avian swing group.) Peter’s answer was charmingly candid: “Brawlers  – came really from my understanding of the roots of this music. Trying to give a little light hearted reference to the bar brawls and whorehouses that hot jazz accompanied!”

I couldn’t argue with that.  And I assure any timorous listeners that neither the band or the CD will ruin your furniture, behave badly, or irritate the neighbors.

And the BSB has or have a Facebook page, with a gig schedule — crucial in these busy days and nights.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!