Monthly Archives: August 2016

TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

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IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Part One): Sunday, August 21, 2016

FELIX photograph

Young Felix Lemerle — guitarist, teacher, composer — swings easily and with a natural grace, has a deep repertoire of memorable songs, has a real respect for melody and interesting harmonies that don’t distort the original, and gets a lovely sound from his guitar.  He’s not a reactionary who’s devoted his life to copying old records, so he sounds happily like himself, and in his hands the guitar is an electrified wooden sculpture that beams love to us.  And his playing breathes, as he creates a graceful balance between sound and silence. You can find out more about Felix here.

I had my first-ever opportunity to hear him on the closing performance at The Ear Inn on Sunday, August 20, but he was playing on a guitar not his own (an obstacle to most musicians, although I would not have known this through what I heard).  I asked Felix — who is as gracious a being as he is a player — to let me know when he had a gig of his own.  And a week later, he played an afternoon session at Romagna Ready 2 Go on Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village — the food and ambiance were lovely — with sensitive, intuitive musicians: drummer Doron Tirosh and the wonderful bassist Murray Wall.  And two guests, in the second part.

A few words about Murray and about Doron.  Murray is soft-spoken and light-hearted, but his music resonates long after he has packed his bass.  His playing reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s definition of the ideal writing style: “the natural words in the natural order.” In Murray’s soft, wise playing, there is a floating cushion of exquisite notes, fascinating harmonies, and fine time.  He never plays an ugly note or phrase.

I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from Felix. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks?  Why, and how, and how often?”  But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace.  When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett.  Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

One anecdote says worlds about Felix.  After I heard him play one song at the Ear Inn and was greatly impressed, I went on Facebook (it is 2016, after all) and said so . . . and the musicians who responded with enthusiasm nearly shut Facebook down.

Here are four very rewarding performances from the first half of the afternoon. Four more will follow.

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

LULLABY IN RHYTHM:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE?:

(Felix thanks the very fine Tal Ronen for introducing him to BASKET and to DEEP NIGHT, which will appear in the sequel.  We thank Tal, too, here at JAZZ LIVES.)

Now that you’ve seen the videos, you understand that I do not overpraise Felix, Doron, or Murray.  And the horticultural reference of my title might become clearer, since the back room of the restaurant, their “garden,” has a glass roof — charming, even when I would look up and see the rain.  I know the plants were happier and bushier when the trio had finished than they’d been at the start. Music does that, especially music of this caliber.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE TROOPS: BLUES AT V-DISC (MARCH 12,1944)

EDDIE CONDON V-DISC CD

It’s possible you have never heard this nine-minute treasure before, and its intended audience did not either.  Recorded for V-Disc on March 12, 1944, it is one of Eddie Condon’s IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES — that is, a blues with surprises — a concert finale reproduced most happily in a recording studio.  I don’t know whether it was a collaboration between Eddie and recording supervisor George T. Simon, but the pairing is memorable.  The basic personnel is a “Condon group”: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; George Lugg, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano; Pops Foster, bass; Kansas Fields, drums.  The delightful guests are James P. Johnson, piano; Ed Hall, clarinet, Jimmy Rushing, vocal.

(The picture above is of the CD issue of these V-Disc sides, which can be found online if one is willing to search for a minute or two.)

A very similar band had played (and they had been recorded) at Town Hall the day before, with the results also issued on an out-of-print CD, so there is some connection: I don’t know whether the V-Disc sides, which can be slightly wayward, were recorded after midnight the next day.

However.  I post this not only because I delight in the music, and because many JAZZ LIVES readers will find it new, but it is also my quiet rebuke to those who can’t tolerate stylistic encroachment of any kind.  You know: this isn’t “authentic,” it’s not “jazz,” but it’s been corrupted by “swing” — the people who divide the music into schools.  Pops Foster?  He’s a New Orleans bassist.  James P. Johnson?  A Harlem stride pianist.  Jimmy Rushing?  A Kansas City blues shouter.  But the musicians had no interest in such restrictive labeling.  And I am uncomfortable with the notion of Eddie as an intent political activist specializing in racial equality.  These were guys who could play, and that was all.  The results are precious.

May your happiness increase!

“I KNOW THAT MUSIC LEADS THE WAY TO ROMANCE”: HARRY ALLEN / EHUD ASHERIE (Cleveland, September 13, 2015)

Fred-and-Ginger-color

Here is a shining, memorably understated lesson in how to play the melody, how to embellish it, how to honor it.  Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano, perform the Jerome Kern – Dorothy Fields song I WON’T DANCE (so deeply associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party — now the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party:

I honor Dorothy Fields’ dear clever lyrics in my title, and when Harry and Ehud play Kern’s melody and their own beautiful embellishments on it — at a very danceable tempo — I still hear the words, which is all praise to her work.

Did you know that this duo (and perhaps two dozen other musicians) will be appearing at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — starting on Thursday, September 15? Now you do.  And when we meet there, I or someone else will explain the secret of that huge flower arrangement, which serves a very useful purpose.

May your happiness increase!

THE ROYAL GARDEN TRIO, IRRESISTIBLY (January 16, 2016): MIKE KAROUB, BRIAN DELANEY, JAMES DAPOGNY, and JOEL MABUS

RGTrio

Here is a concert performance, nearly an hour, of one of my favorite chamber-jazz groups ever, the Royal Garden Trio, in a slightly amended state: Mike Karoub on cello, Brian Delaney on guitar, and sitting in for Tom Bogardus on tenor guitar and clarinet, the eminent James Dapogny on piano and trumpet. This rare delight took place at  the Franke Center for the Arts, Marshall, Michigan, on Saturday, January 16, 2016.

Here are the major landmarks on this delightful musical interlude.  The Royal Garden Trio lovingly presents these songs in the most affectionately complete fashion — with their verses, an almost forgotten part of the musical / theatrical presentation, even when you don’t hear the lyrics.

LINGER AWHILE [Vincent Rose]

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME [ Fabian Andre, Wilbur Schwandt, Gus Kahn]

BODY AND SOUL [Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton, Johnny Green]

I NEVER KNEW [Gus Kahn, Ted Fio Rito]

LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL [Matt Dennis, Tom Adair]

BLUE ROOM [Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart]

OL’ MAN RIVER [Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II] (beginning with stealthy grace)

CLOSE YOUR EYES [Bernice Petkere, Joe Young], as if under the lady’s window in Verona, Madrid, or perhaps Ypsilanti

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU [Victor Young, Will J. Harris] (with Joel Mabus, vocal / guitar, and hot trumpet interludes from Jim)

LAZY BONES [Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer]

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN [Maceo Pinkard, Ben Bernie, Kenneth Casey].

Had you peeked in through my window when I stumbled across this marvel, you would have seen that most odd spectacle of a man seated in front of his computer, applauding a video.  It delights me so. . . .not only the three brilliant rocking soloists, but the companionable layering of the three very different but evocative instrumental voices.

The Royal Garden Trio might appear happily archaic — they make beautiful swing chamber music — but they do exist in the twenty-first century.  They have, believe it or not, a Facebook page, an up-to-date band website, and three compact discs for sale as discs or downloads.  Could they possibly be more hip?

As Jake Hanna often said, “PAY ATTENTION!” I direct that summons to PBS, to NPR, to the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall . . . and I am sure you can add other names to this list.  Help people find out about the delicious phenomenon that is the Royal Garden Trio.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE JAM AT THE EAR INN: DANNY TOBIAS, SCOTT ROBINSON, FELIX LEMERLE, JOANNA STERNBERG (Sunday, August 14, 2016)

EAR INN sign

Sometime in July 2017, the EarRegulars will celebrate ten straight years of improving the universe through swing on Sunday nights at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).  One of the conventions of their collective frolics is that the first set is usually devoted to the quartet — most often led by Jon-Erik Kellso, with guitarist Matt Munisteri the most Regular of the EarRegulars.  The second set welcomes approved musical guests who are invited to join in.  Last Sunday, the “house band” was Jon-Erik, Scott Robinson on wondrous reeds and brass — Eb clarinet, Eb alto horn, tenor saxophone — Adam Moezinia, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

For the final performance of the night, Felix Lemerle took Adam’s place (and borrowed his guitar), and Joanna Sternberg did the same with Rob’s string bass. Jon-Erik ceded the trumpet chair to our friend Danny Tobias, trumpet.  And this happened.

“The Ear.  So dear,” is what I think.  See you there some Sunday or another!

This post is dedicated to the Professor from Bahia, the source of many goodnesses.

May your happiness increase!

GRamercy 5-8639

rotary phone

Perhaps, for the Youngbloods in the audience, I should explain.  Older telephone numbers were patterned after words — presumably easier to remember — in the same way some business numbers are (whimsically) 1-800-BUY JUNK.  My childhood phone number began with “PE” for Pershing, the general; now it would simply be 7 3.  All clear?

I love Eddie Condon’s music and everything relating to it.  I wan’t of an age to visit West Third Street, nor the club on Fifty-Sixth, although I spent some delightful evenings at the posthumous version on Fifty-Fourth (one night in 1975 Ruby Braff was the guest star and Helen Humes, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Brooks Kerr and a few others sat in).

This delightful artifact just surfaced on eBay — from 1958:

CONDONS front

The English professor in me chafes at the missing apostrophe, but everything else printed here is wonderful: the names of the band and the intermission pianist.  The reverse:

CONDONS back

I didn’t buy it — so you might still be able to — but I did have fleeting thoughts of taking it to a print shop and ordering a few hundred replicas, more gratifying than the glossy cards with pictures of Tuscany on them.

We don’t need a time machine, though, because a version of that band (with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and others) did record, in glorious sound.  Don’t let “Dixielan” Jam or the CD title keep you away.  Savor the sound of Eddie’s guitar.  The music here was originally issued as THE ROARING TWENTIES, and the sessions were produced by the amazing George Avakian:

I did buy something, though — irresistible to me —  that struck a far more receptive chord.  Whether I will use it or frame it has not yet been decided.  I’ll know when it arrives.

SWIZZLE STICK

If you have no idea what this is, ask Great-Grandma, who used such a thing to stir her whiskey sour.

May your happiness increase!