If it were possible to play a compact disc to extinction, my copy of HOT CLASSICISM would be gone by now. Amazingly, the disc is starting to look translucent.
What it contains is the rousing and lovely performances by Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet or clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, recorded live in New Orleans at the Old U.S. Mint on January 13, 2016. Here’s a sample — the rollicking PARKWAY STOMP:
Several of the performances appeared as videos on YouTube, but the fidelity of the CD is immensely superior, and you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) play videos in the car unless you are a passenger, so I commend this disc to you with high enthusiasm.
HOT CLASSICISM was produced by Kris. You can order a copy at his website, here, and if you are in New Orleans come see the trio’s CD release show. This Saturday, the 24th, at 8:15 PM they play at the Steamboat Stomp and Sunday the 25th, they are at Snug Harbor, with sets at 8 and 10 PM.
Here’s what I wrote for the CD. In full candor, I insisted on writing something for them, and would have been very put out if they had said NO. I believe in this music and these musicians with all my being.
One of my favorite quotations is “We cannot ask the dead to come back. We can, however, invite them to live through us.” This CD is a vibrant, generous conversation between the Ancestors and three very much alive Jazz Masters. Kris, Andy, and Hal know that Lester was right, that you have to “go for yourself.” But innovation is a Mobius strip: try to be yourself by rejecting the Past and you might run dry in mid-chorus. The Elders were innovative in their moment. We revere them but we honor the past by making it new.
“Hot classicism” is the phrase that came to my mind when I first encountered these magically conjoined kindred souls, their music an instantaneous wallop of bliss that hasn’t faded yet. In this trio, everything is in balance. It’s a true Hot Democracy where everyone gets a chance to blow, where musicians support one another for “the comfort of the band.” Listening to this joyous session, I also thought of the great classical chamber trios and quartets: Casals-Thibaud-Cortot, for one example. In those groups, even though musicians were following printed scores, their sensibilities, temperaments, and vocal timbres blazed through. Someone listening to an unnamed violinist on radio or record recognized the player: Szigeti, not Heifetz; Stuff, not Stephane. And those personalities blended in wondrous synergy.
“Hot,” everyone knows as the remarkable marriage of passionate abandon and exquisite control. These performances, as Hot as you could want, are technically splendid, idiomatically pleasing. But here’s the beautiful part: they are marvelous because the players know what not to play, how to leave space. They know that too much is not a good thing, with apologies to Mae West and Oscar Wilde. Hal, Kris, and Andy embody ancient virtues: how to say your piece eloquently in sixteen bars; how to create memorable syncopated dance music. And since they are temporal hybrids – living simultaneously in 1926, 1936, and 2016, a very pleasing subversive freedom animates these performances. These musicians roam freely in a universe of sounds. They bring their modern awareness to the sacred texts of the past. Consider Andy’s clarinet playing, which reflects the great Chicagoans and New Orleanians but also delineates an alternate universe where Milt Mesirow put in that ten thousand hours of practice. So the music here, although deeply devout, goes its own way. If there’s a harmony or a rhythmic suspension that works at that moment, this trio offers it joyously, even if Keppard would have frowned on it.
James Joyce said of ULYSSES, not humbly but perhaps accurately, that if Dublin were to be destroyed, it could be built again from his novel. And if all the monumental jazz recordings prior to, say, 1930 were to vanish, one could rebuild the Hot Library of Alexandria from this CD.
Some listeners (they can’t help themselves) will compulsively start a list of Influences and Models that they hear. I won’t. This CD is completely endearing because it’s music. Let others point out, “Oh, that’s exactly the note that Kid Wawa plays on take 17, the take that only came out on Beka 12666-4!” I say, “Don’t these fellows sound grand, utterly like themselves?”
The only thing missing from this session is a band vocal: I think of the three of them humming behind a Kris solo passage or (dare I dream) hearing the trio warble the ode containing the heroic couplet, “You bought my wife a Coca-Cola / So you could play on her Victrola.” Maybe on the second disc of this trio’s oeuvre.
Andy, Kris, and Hal create affectionate wise music that amazes us, touches our hearts, helps make our world dance. Infinitely complex yet plain as day, their music enriches us.
Don’t be the last one on your block to experience HOT CLASSICISM.
May your happiness increase!