DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

A long prelude, but with a point.

Julian Barnes has an extraordinary story in his 2005 collection THE LEMON TABLE, “A Short History of Hairdressing,” in which the narrator recounts his life as a series of haircuts.

It amuses me to offer my life in a few lines as a purchaser of recorded music:

Fifty-five years ago, when my mother went shopping in a department store, I ran off and bought a Louis Armstrong long-playing record for $2.79 plus tax.  Thirty years ago, I stopped off at Tower Records on my way home from work and bought an Arbors or a Concord CD for $16 and hid it in my briefcase so it wouldn’t be seen and cause an argument.  In the past twelve months, although I still buy music from Amazon and eBay and the musicians themselves, the music cornucopia has become Bandcamp.com, where one can hear and purchase all sorts of divinely inspired improvised music — from Bob Matthews to Brad Linde and Freddie Redd, to Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Jonathan Doyle, The Vitality Five, The Dime Notes, Andrew Oliver, Michael McQuaid and two dozen more . . . and now, a wonderful addition to Hal Smith’s catalogue of inspiring music.

This isn’t a collection of howling, meowing, and hissing: no need to open the window and shout “STOP THAT!” at the feline orgy below.  Rather, it’s hot New Orleans dance music.  Hal [one of the greatest swinging drummers on the planet, and that’s no stage joke] says, of this brand-new session, “a sound somewhere between Bunk’s band (if Don Ewell had been the pianist) and the 1964 ‘Jazzology Poll Winners.'”

Filet of soul — not canned or freeze-dried.  I confess to always entering into an emotional relationship with music — those rare and delicious effusions that make me feel warmly embraced.  Hal’s new disc does that.

Here, listen.  And I believe that Bandcamp waives its fees on Friday, so the musicians get more of the hot savory pie.

The facts, ma’am (thinking of Jack Webb, if you remember):

Hal Smith (drums, leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, vocal on MY LITTLE GIRL); John Gill (trombone); Ryan Calloway (clarinet); Kris Tokarski (piano); Bill Reinhart (banjo); Katie Cavera (string bass).  YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE / ARKANSAS BLUES / BLUE MASK STOMP / HONEY BABE / SAN SUE STRUT / BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE / BLUE FOR YOU, BUNK / MY LITTLE GIRL //

Jake Hanna said — often — “What are you waiting for the last chorus of a tune to swing?  Start swinging from the beginning!” and this band does, no matter what the tempo.  Twenty years ago, a work-colleague would say, “You ROCK!” as

Before I heard a note, I was happy with the tune list.  Occasionally I think, “If I hear one more JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME or PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE or SI TU VOIS MA MERE I will bang my head into the wall — don’t try this, it ruins the paint — but the avoidance of tediously overplayed songs was immediately refreshing.  Aside from the homage to Bunk Johnson’s repertoire, there are affectionate glances at Messrs. Morton, Manone, Bechet, and others.

It’s a band with New Orleans in their hearts — strong melodic improvisations, a pulsating supportive rhythm section, and a delightfully idiosyncratic front line making SOUNDS.  There is a refreshing reliance on ensemble playing, and a return to one of my favorite things: one player offering a straight but swinging melody while the other improvises around it.

I said it was warm — and warming — music.  I hear other bands full of players I admire hewing so closely to the recordings that the collective effect is technically dazzling but a little cool to the touch.  The Jazzologists know the score (pun intended) but they romp all on their own.  And they don’t fall into the reverent trap of imitating the limitations of venerable senior players.  They play.

And it’s a triumph of passion as well as technology.  Yes, it was created remotely, with players in six cities — but the groove is such that you wouldn’t know it.

Not for the first time in my adult life have I lamented the disconnect between my ears and heart (those parts that receive the music and revel in it) and my rather stiff stubborn legs.  But hearing this disc, I would happily dance around the kitchen, not caring how goofy I might look.  It’s that inspiring.

To be a good critic, one must find flaws, or so it seems.  That was hard with this session — now on its fifth playing as I write this — but I did find one thing to complain about.  I wish this had been a digital two-CD set.  Maybe in a few months (what is the feline gestation period?) there can be Kittens?

Swing, you cats! — here.

May your happiness increase!

One response to “DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

  1. Pat Patterson

    Yay! That one goes into my Bandcamp shopping cart… 🙂

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