In 2015, Jeff Barnhart and Thomas “Spats” Langham created a new duo CD. If you know these musicians, there will be no need to do more than click here. (The ideal way to get copies of the CD will be at a gig, but you already know this.)
First off, a word of explanation about my title. Should anyone think I am satirizing either of these artists by calling them “eccentric,” know that I am using the word in its scientific sense to mean unpredictable, original, singular — they are on their own orbits, which is one of the great pleasures of this recording, because Planet Barnhart and Planet Langham create something larger than themselves while remaining true delightful individuals. Hot synergy, if you like.
Even though this CD presents only two musicians, it gives extraordinary value. Jeff plus Spats equals a whole repertory company: a swing / stride / blues / ragtime pianist; a wonderful rhythm guitarist who also solos in his own way; an imitable banjo wizard; two singers who can emulate Fats Waller or Al Bowlly, who can croon or harmonize or scat, create hilarious jive, double-entendre or suitable for the kiddies; two comedians; two clowns . . . have I left any of the marvelous facets of these two fellows out? No doubt when you listen to the CD you will hear and think of more. The sonic and aesthetic density of this CD — every three-minute performance is so nobly complete and emotionally satisfying in itself, a miniature dramatic performance — makes me long for a 78 rpm issue, say a special LAKE Records eleven-record set in its own heavy cardboard album with (of course) cover by Jim Flora. That way, we’d have to get up and go to the record player at the end of every performance and either savor it in silence or put the needle back to the beginning.
What variety! Both Jeff and Spats are wise connoisseurs of songs that haven’t been overdone, but the disc is not overly focused on the obscure — there’s also Waller, Berlin, Coots, McHugh, Whiting — although if you’d asked me before the CD came out, “What songs would you love to have this duo doing?” I would have named a few that are here, but the results are a wonderful banquet of delights. The disc seems intelligently apportioned between the romantic and the hot, with side-dishes of unclassifiable gratifying music, and there’s even a Barhart original that fits right in. It’s all fulfilling. I won’t delineate the particular pleasures and surprises — that’s rather like sending someone into a film that you’ve enjoyed to the utmost and saying, “Keep a close eye on what she does with her pearls in the Florida scene,” and the watcher is so focused on what’s-to-come, waiting for it, that the larger creation is somehow made lopsided.
Just to delineate the variety: EVERYWHERE YOU GO / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / ALL ALONE / SMOOTH SAILING / SLEEPY HEAD / BLUE EVENING / I COULDN’T GET TO IT / SHAKE IT DOWN / WHAT DO I CARE (What Somebody Said)? / THE BALTIMORE / KING CHANTICLEER / ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE / ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING? / IT’S YOU / LET’S PRETEND THAT THERE’S A MOON / EVERY EVENING / WITH MY LOVE / SAY IT WITH YOUR FEET – HAPPY FEET / WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? / I WISH I WERE TWINS.
Astute listeners will chart the associations — Henry “Red” Allen, Fats, Billie, Doris Day, Ikey Robinson, Bix and Tram, Ellington, Marty Grosz, Russ Columbo, Noone — and more. But my guess is that the next time you hear, say, I WISH THAT I WERE TWINS, you will think of Jeff and Spats first.
I haven’t had the good fortune to capture Spats and Jeff as a duo, although I have seen and recorded them both — Spats at Whitley Bay for a number of years, Jeff likewise and also in duet with wife Anne (as IVORY&GOLD) . . . but here are two performances of songs you will hear on the CD.
Groucho Marx said that all theatre could be divided into two categories, sad or high-kicking, so it is on that principle that I present the music.
BLUE EVENING (recorded by me at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) by Spats, Robert Fowler, tenor saxophone; Martin Litton, piano; Malcolm Sked, brass bass:
WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? by Jeff, Brian Nalepka, and Jim Lawlor — recorded in October 2015 by my friend CineDevine at Jeff and Joel’s House Party (a twice-yearly explosion of good music you should investigate):
Those two performances will give you strength to wait out the days and nights until the CD arrives, I hope. Hail Barnhart! Hail Langham! Hail Paul Adams of LAKE Records!
May your happiness increase!