Get ready for the room temperature to increase steadily. Music first, words after.
MILENBERG JOYS (vocal by John Gill):
BALLIN’ THE JACK (vocal by Dave Kosmyna):
A wonderful band devoted to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and the music he and his bands played — electrifying, exact, and loose all at once. Led by Hal Smith on drums, the Mortonia Seven is Dave Kosmyna, cornet and vocal; TJ Muller, trombone; Dave Bennett, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; John Gill, banjo and vocal; Sam Rocha, string bass and helicon.
Some words. Jelly Roll Morton was not happy to have his music popularized by others during his lifetime (think of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and others selling millions of copies of KING PORTER STOMP and WOLVERINE BLUES) but in some way there was a Morton “revival” going on for the last decade of his life. And with good reason: the compositions themselves are substantial, full of surprises that haven’t aged, and the recorded performances are fascinating marriages of hot improvisation and established structures.
But because Morton was such a powerful personality — man, composer, arranger, giver of dicta that should be obeyed — tributes to him have often not been easy or their results satisfying. Sometimes ensembles have been reverent and obedient: we must play it exactly the way the Red Hot Peppers did on the record, and those results are dazzling in their own way but I am not sure Omer Simeon would have liked people treating his solo as holy writ, to be repeated forever, with musicians subsuming their own identities in those manuscripts and recordings. (And Morton’s recordings have their own vivid force, not easy to replicate.) The other extreme, with a bunch of good people “jamming” on WOLVERINE BLUES and SWEET SUBSTITUTE, can be thrilling, but the results are at a distance from the exactitude Morton brought to his gigs and the recording studio.
The Mortonia Seven takes some and leaves some from both worlds: you can easily hear the outlines and structures of the original compositions and recordings, executed with style and grace, but the musicians’ personalities come through whole. And the result is lively, not studied — hot and sweet, raucous and melancholy, as the music demands.
There are a half-dozen more performances from this set that I will share with you. For now, I’m going to watch these three again, mop my brow, and grin. Join me!
May your happiness increase!