Long before I’d ever met Steve Pistorius in person, I knew his music: consistently alive, full of good feelings even when he was playing or singing the saddest blues. I’d heard him solo, playing full, orchestral piano, and heard that piano bubbling through ensembles in exuberant down-home ways. I had the honor of meeting him and hearing him in person at the first Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans (that would be 2013) and I have had the pleasure twice more.
From the left, that’s Benny Amon, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet, Steve himself, and James Evans, clarinet, saxophone, and vocal. These four gentlemen have just come out with a CD, called STEAMBOAT DAYS, and it’s wonderful. And — should you want to go immediately to gratification, you can buy copies at www.stevepistorius.com.
As usual with Steve, the repertoire is a mix of sweet reassuring surprises — New Orleans and New Orleans-inspired jazz without the hackneyed Bourbon Street bounce. And this quartet is both original — they inhabit 2016 — and comfortably mellow. I had the privilege of writing a few lines for the disc . . .
Technically speaking, this is a compact disc, as you see when you slide the plastic article into the player. But I prefer the archaic term “record,” in the broader sense: an accurate depiction of something memorable, a way of capturing something evanescent for posterity. This record enshrines for us something rare and cheering: actual improvised music being made on the spot by musicians, without artifice. Although much of the repertoire is sweetly venerable, we know immediately that this creativity, singular and collective, exists now. STEAMBOAT DAYS doesn’t strive to imitate historical recordings or legendary bands — no conscious homages to Noone, Mezzrow-Bechet, Wilber-Davern. Let those who wish to “play old records in high fidelity” do just that. This is a record of what Steve, James, Orange, and Benny felt like playing in the moment. Thus it is genuine and irreplaceable. And varied, with stomps, blues, pop songs both tender and mournful, genuine make-out music (SWAY), a handful of Creole seasoning, and a properly dark roux.
The music is occasionally raw — as in so intense in its emotion that polish becomes an afterthought — yet at the same time highly expert. At once delicate and ferocious, it is a lace tablecloth with a tiger underneath. Although New Orleans jazz, according to the Sages, is an ensemble art, the four soloists amaze and delight throughout. James and Orange complement each other — tonally and stylistically — I think of different varieties of ivy growing exuberantly up a wall. Steve and Benny are all the rhythm section anyone would ever need, a truly orchestral pianist and a percussionist who makes beautiful rollicking noise. This is an expandable quartet, with the singing of Steve (whose seriousness is porous to let deep feeling come out) and James (who so tenderly offers his heart to us) — also a rousing pleasure on C-melody saxophone, with his own sound.
Many hour-long recordings start out glossy and appealing but by the time I am twenty minutes through, I am looking for some other way to amuse myself. Don’t my socks need to be paired? These selections tumble one upon another, and my only problem is that, having heard KATHLEEN for the first time, I didn’t want to go on to the second track without walking dear Kate home a few more times.
This is A BAND, so delicious. They do not archaeologize; they are warm rather than scholarly-chilly. They do not play at the music. They ARE the music. May they have ten thousand opportunities to keep pleasing themselves and us.
For the record, the songs are I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / GULF COAST BLUES / I WANT YOU JUST MYSELF / THE YAMA YAMA MAN / WILD CAT BLUES / CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES / LE MARCHAND DE POISSONS / QUIEN SERA [SWAY] / SATANIC BLUES / A MILLION DREAMS / POOR KATIE REDD / FORTY AND TIGHT / RIVERSIDE BLUES / STEAMBOAT DAYS.
But wait! There’s more! You don’t have to take my word for it. How about the set that the Quartet performed at the Steamboat Stomp last month (September 24, 2016) on the Natchez? That’s Tom Saunders on bass sax, in for Benny Amon on drums.
CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES:
FORTY AND TIGHT:
I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN:
THE FISH VENDOR (LE MARCHAND DE POISSONS):
You’ll want a copy of the CD to complement the videos, I assure you. And this band is a life-enhancer.
May your happiness increase!