Before you read a word of mine, I urge you to set aside fourteen minutes (multi-tasking discouraged) and enjoy this performance of SWEET SUE and GEORGIA CABIN by Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his grandfather Lloyd Arntzen, reeds / vocal; his brother Arnt Arntzen, guitar / vocal; James Meger, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums. Recorded at the Vancouver 2013 Jazz Band Ball by Bill Schneider.
There have been some families in jazz but it’s a fairly uncommon phenomenon; in this century I can think of the Marsalis clan, then an A B C — Au, Baker, and Caparone — and I am sure my readers will tell me of others I am unintentionally slighting. But the Arntzen dynasty is truly impressive. (I’ve heard Evan at close range a number of times, and his talent is no fluke.)
The occasion for this celebration is my listening to two fairly recent CDs, both cheerfully swinging without tricks — and they both suggest that the Arntzens have are a musically functional family. (I’m old-fashioned enough to be in favor of families that not only don’t hate each other, but that create something supportive and lasting.)
The first CD, BLACKSTICK, offers a sweet story as well as authentic hot jazz.
This CD is an expression of gratitude to Grandpa Lloyd Arntzen, who taught Evan and Arnt, as children, not only musical fundamentals but gave them a deep love of melodic improvisation and hot jazz. And the best part of the CD is that it is not an elegy or eulogy — but that Lloyd plays and sings (even a Tom Waits paean to New Orleans) throughout the disc. Aside from Evan, Lloyd, and Arnt, the other musicians are Jennifer Hodge, string bass, Dan Ogilvie, guitar; Benji Bohannon, drums. The sound of the music is comfortable, too: what could be better than recording it — with only two microphones — in Lloyd’s “basement rec. room,” where it all began? The music is a happy and free evocation of the Apex Club Orchestra, Sidney Bechet with and without Mezz Mezzrow, and even Soprano Summit: moving from gentle serenades to ferocious swing. Here you can hear the CD and — if you are so moved — purchase an actual copy or downloads.
The second CD, cleverly titled INTRODUCING THE BROTHERS ARNTZEN, is just that, a compact but winning introduction to their musical world — which features not only a good deal of expert instrumental interplay but almost as much delightful harmony singing.
The CD isn’t slick or slickly produced: it sounds most gratifyingly like the music dear friends might make in their living room for the enjoyment of a small group of like-minded people. (It is properly advertised on the cover as MUSIC FOR DANCING.)
I am not a fan of manufactured country-and-western music, but this disc has a lovely “roots” flavor to it . . . and when I was only on the second track, a stomping VIPER MAD, which was followed by a truly touching HOME, I was convinced. Jennifer Hodge is back on string bass, and Andrew Millar plays drums most effectively. Evan sticks to the clarinet, Arnt to the banjo, but this foursome creates a rich sound. As before, you may hear / purchase here.
The Brothers aren’t entirely down-home antiquarians: they have their own fraternal Facebook page. They have already brought a good deal of restorative music and good emotions into my world: welcome them into yours.
May your happiness increase!