Tag Archives: Alex Hall

YOU’LL WANT TO TAKE THEM HOME: THE OXBLOOD MELODIANS

Those who have visited my apartment would agree that it resembles as a homemade record store-yard sale.  Or a spousal nightmare.  Over there, a George Barnes lp, on that table an Eddie Miller cassette; on top of some papers, a Jimmie Rowles CD, and then there are the 78s — which, I say proudly, are in alphabetical order.  So I don’t need any more music right away.

Sorry, I was proven wrong this morning when I had a chance to hear and purchase the Oxblood Melodians’ debut CD on Bandcamp.  Listen to the first track here while you read.

I had heard of the band — rather like one of those listings in Brian Rust that you know were once recorded (Adrian Rollini, Teddy Bunn, and Frank Froeba, 1930) but you have never heard — I knew some of the musicians, but did not know that they would appear, fully-feathered, to me, this Friday, August 7.  More about that date shortly.

For now, some enticing data.  Or you can read it all for yourself here if you are a proud independent cuss who don’t take help from nobody.

We are excited to present The Oxblood Melodians. This self-titled album is the collaboration of Jonathan Doyle & David Jellema, and features many of our favorite Austinites and honorary Austinites. Our goal was to create an ensemble that evokes the New York and Chicago small groups of the mid-late 1920s, with bass saxophone in the bass role and embracing both jazz and blues traditions. The Oxblood Melodians are named in part after the oxblood lilies that grace Austin and central Texas yards in the fall (including our own). Recorded at the legendary “Dandyville” by Alex Hall in 2014, these sides have been simmering and gestating, waiting for just the right moment to be released into the world. That time is finally upon us!

Day 1 :: 4,5,6,7,10,12,14
Alice Spencer—vocals 6 & 14
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
Mark Gonzales—trombone (except 7)
Westen Borghesi—tenor banjo (+vocal on 12)
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone
Hal Smith—drum set 4,6,12,14

Day 2 :: 1,2,3,8,9,11,13
Alice Spencer—vocals 1,2,9
Austin Smith—violin
David Jellema—cornet &/or clarinet
Lyon Graulty—clarinet &/or tenor saxophone
J.D. Pendley—guitar & tenor banjo
Jonathan Doyle—bass saxophone (+contra-alto clarinet 3 only)

1. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 2) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

2. Oh Daddy Blues / (William Russell / Ed Herbert) arr. D.Jellema, J.D.Pendley

3. Dardanella / (Fred Fisher / Felix Bernard / Johnny S. Black) arr. D.Jellema

4. Goose Pimples / (Jo Trent / Fletcher Henderson) adpt. J.Doyle

5. New Orleans Shuffle / (Bill Whitmore) dir. D.Jellema

6. Of All the Wrongs You’ve Done to Me / (Lew Payton / Chris Smith / Edgar Dowell) dir. D.Jellema

7. Farewell Blues / (Paul Mares / Leon Roppolo / Elmer Schoebel) dir. D.Jellema

8. Cryin’ All Day / (Frank Trumbauer / Chauncey Morehouse) arr. D.Jellema

9. Don’t Give All the Lard Away / (Lockwood Lewis / Henry Clifford) adpt. J.Doyle

10. Feel the River Move / (David Jellema / Rod Jellema) dir. D.Jellema

11. Old Stack O’Lee Blues / (Sidney Bechet) dir. D.Jellema

12. Love Affairs / (Al Dubin / J. Russel Robinson) adpt. J.Doyle

13. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams / (Ted Koehler / Billy Moll / Harry Barris) dir. D.Jellema

14. Louis-I-An-Ia (Day 1) / (Joe Darensbourg) dir. D.Jellema

Some of the repertoire will point us to “the dear boy” from Davenport, but this is both a humble tribute to him and an understanding that our heroes prize individuality the most.  So this isn’t a bunch of kids dressing up for Halloween: “I want be Bessie this year!  How come you always get to be Bessie?” “Your brother gets to be Larry Binyon this year.  I promised him.”  “Let us be.  Mom and I are going as Fats Waller.”  

Rather, what you will hear is a group of dear musical friends, exuberant and precise, who know the history and have their own songs to sing.  Too many delights to elucidate here: I’d rather you head over to Bandcamp directly.  Why the rush? Because today Bandcamp gives all the proceeds to the artists and takes no fees.  So if you haven’t been able to hear some live jazz, hear this lively version: it will make you glad.  

“Believe me,” as Alice tells us at the end of OH DADDY BLUES.

May your happiness increase!

THE FAT BABIES: “UPTOWN” (Delmark Records): ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAVE BOCK, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL

To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts.  The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival.  (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)

But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.

Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:

UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.

Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.

The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion.  They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.

Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle.  The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes.  The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others.  But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.

What makes this band so delightful?  The answers come thick and fast.  They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff.  The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires.  There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet.  This is music for dancers as well as listeners.  I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.

“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal.  It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through.  And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces.  It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.

It’s joyous music, joyously played.  And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set.  Maybe next time.

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES in DAVENPORT, IOWA (August 3, 2017: Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Fest, Putnam Museum)

What follows seems — very reassuringly — like a tour through the landscape in which Bix Beiderbecke lived, and the ways in which he created it to his own dimensions.  It’s a leisurely concert given by The Fat Babies, who are Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, string bass, leader; Alex Hall — taking place at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, as part of the 2017 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

The nice video is yet another gift from “CANDC,” or “Chris-and-Chris,” who’ve also given us this delight — ninety minutes, two sets of the Babies, from the next day’s performances.

The songs are FIDGETY FEET / SUSIE /  BLUE RIVER /RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / WHEN / OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS / OH, BABY! / SINGIN’ THE BLUES featuring a Whiteman coda / WOLVERINE BLUES (in the Wolverine Orchestra style, arranged by Andy Schumm) / I’LL BE A FRIEND “WITH PLEASURE” [vocal by Paul Asaro]/ FUTURISTIC RHYTHM / SLOW RIVER / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / MY PRETTY GIRL.

May your happiness increase!

NINETY MINUTES at HIGH HEAT: THE FAT BABIES SWING OUT at the BIXFEST (Davenport, Iowa, August 4, 2017)

For no particular medical reason aside from age-based entropy, I’ve slowed down the mad pace of recent years.  At my most passionate peak of obsession and love, I flew or drove to seven or eight jazz festivals or parties in twelve months.  I haven’t given up, just slowed down.  One of the festivals I was sorry to miss was the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held in Davenport, Iowa, at the start of this August.  I knew that — unlike the tree in the metaphysical forest — that the bands I love would play even if I were not there to video them — but still.

So I was very glad that “jazzmanjoe100” recorded the wonderful music that Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL  performed at that festival.  And I am delighted that “CANDC” did the same for several sets: the one most pleasing being by The Fat Babies.  “CANDC” isn’t an impossible-to-pronounce word; rather, it stands for “Chris-and-Chris,” (pronounced as a rapid triplet) a Swedish pair, immaculately dressed as if going out for a carriage ride c. 1917: he videos; she dances.  In general, they both light up the place.

As do The Fat Babies, the beloved brainchild (b. 2010) of string bassist Beau Sample; featuring Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, and other instruments; Dave Bock, trombone and tuba; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar; Alex Hall, drums.  For this set, alumnus and guest Jonathan Doyle joined in on clarinet and tenor.

For this set, they offered their usually varied program that leans towards the esoteric, which is always a nice change.  They began with a hot CHANGES MADE, and then summoned up 1926 Luis Russell (in Chicago, before the incandescent days of Red and Higgy) with SWEET MUMTAZ.

I must ask: is MUMTAZ another slang word for muggles, muta, or pot?  Google has not been terribly forthcoming.

Then, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME from old New Orleans, Jon Doyle’s evocative SWEET IS THE NIGHT, and a heady — c. 1925 Henerson — MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

Paul Asaro sings THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, which I associate with 1928 Bing; WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABE? — splitting its associations between McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and 1934 Louis.  It’s followed by Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM, a reed feature on THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, a sweet LAZY WEATHER (do I correctly think of the underrated 1936 Don Redman band here?) and a closing romp with Clarence Williams 1933 HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

And another wonderful helping.

Paul starts things off with I DON’T CARE (obviously not the case!), and then they move to the Nichols-associated SALLY OF MY DREAMS.  Then Walter Donaldson’s SAY YES TODAY (memorable in the Roger Wolfe Kahn version), followed by the Tiny Parham CLARICE — a wonderful hot rhythm ballad with a tango interlude.  Then, Ellington’s BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN; Paul and Johnny Donatowicz summon up Bing and Eddie Lang on DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — always a good question to ask.

Next, Willard Robison’s DEEP ELM, and Frank Bunch’s FUZZY WUZZY — talk about obscure yet delightful.  Then, FOR MY BABY, a 1927 hit, mixing hot dance and romance; Paul essays TEA FOR TWO all by himself, and beautifully, echoing Don Lambert’s habit of mixing tunes with THINKING OF YOU, APRIL SHOWERS, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, FRENESI, and a few whose title proved elusive, for a wonderfully low-key display of virtuosity — where he resists the temptation to triple the tempo.

Finally MONA, thanks to Harold Austin’s New Yorkers (a double obscurity to me), and Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, based on DIGA DIGA DOO — precious to me in its 1933 incarnation and in its 2017 one: the final chorus is my idea of jubliation.

Quite a good deal of beautifully played hot and sweet music indeed.  What makes this band notable, for me, is their mastery of the late Twenties – mid Thirties hot dance sound (with arrangements that summon up the original records and in some cases, build on their glories), soloists who are convincing on a jungle romp or a danceable ballad.  But the band as a whole sounds so good: their intonation, their voicings, so people used to listening for the hot sixteen bars also find themselves admiring the ensemble.  As I do, as you will.

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS: “THE DEVILS’ MUSIC”

naomi-cd-2016

This is an irresistible CD.  The first time I put it in the player, after about a half-chorus, I leaned forward and raised the volume.  When I had heard Naomi sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? for the first time, I played it again.  And then again.  And several times over.  And (I know this might seem monotonous) I played the disc again from the start.  That should serve as the JAZZ LIVES Seal of Approval, shouldn’t it?  (Note: the apostrophe in the title is also a hilarious gift to us.)

naomi-portrait

If you visit YouTube and type in “Naomi Uyama,” you will find many videos showing her as a championship swing dancer.  But I first encountered Naomi as a singer, and a fine one — singing a chorus from a Boswell Sisters recording alongside Tamar Korn and Mimi Terris — on a cold night in 2009 outside Banjo Jim’s.  Naomi and her expert friends resurfaced with their first CD, which I reviewed here with great pleasure in August 2014.

Here are several tracks from that CD — to show you that Naomi and her Devils know and knew how to do it.  Lil Johnson’s TAKE IT EASY, GREASY:

Something more polite, the Basie GEORGIANNA:

I know I’m getting carried away here — a wonderfully sweet / swinging performance of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU:

The band on THE DEVILS’ MUSIC is of course, Naomi Uyama, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax / clarinet; Jeremy Noller, drums;
Matt Musselman, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano;
Mike Davis, trumpet, and the sessions took place in Chicago in August 2016.

Naomi and the Devils write, “Our hope was to show the growth we’ve had as a unit since our debut album was released 2 years prior. Our focus: having original arrangements of swinging tunes – some well loved by the dance community and other hidden gems. We also added to our line-up, and over half the songs on this album feature Mike Davis on trumpet, expanding our hot horn harmonies and giving us a new sound. Lastly Naomi wrote the band’s first original composition, track 1 “Little Girl Blues,” putting something out there that you can’t hear from any other swing band. With a vintage ear and expertise from recording engineer Alex Hall we’ve mixed and mastered the whole shebang and can’t wait for the world to hear it. We hope you enjoy “The Devils’ Music”.

Now, some comments from me.  Naomi, as I hope you’ve already heard, is not just someone who sings: she is a singer, with a voice that’s attractive in itself, which she uses to great effect, depending on the material.  She can handle complicated lyrics at a fast tempo; she swings; she has a sure sense of dynamics. She doesn’t copy old records; she doesn’t overdramatize; she understands the songs; she can be rueful, tender, brassy, and she’s always lively.  Her phrasing is playful, and she’s no swing robot — by which I mean she’s loose, not repeating a set of gestures.  And a witty lyricist on LITTLE GIRL BLUES.

I also think that it is so much harder to sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC than a swing number, and on this delicate love song Naomi captivates me.  The same for IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, even when Gerlach’s lyrics defy logic.  Her I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY made my living room rock, and I nearly hurt my neck bobbing my head to SHOO SHOO BABY.  Having heard Louis, Bing, and Billie make imperishable versions of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, I’ve come to dread contemporary versions, but hers is special, with a hilarious scat break.

That band!  I’ve met and admired six of the players in person (to me, their names are an assurance of swing).  I bow to them.  I’ve not met Jeremy Noller, but he is another Worthy — a rocking Worthy at that. Catch his tom-tom work on ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE.  And although the Devils sit so comfortably in a Basie / Lunceford / small-group Ellington groove, there’s a delicious c. 1929 A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, completely convincing.  (The band likes to riff, with about half of the tracks arranged by Naomi or Jake: nice uncluttered charts, expertly rehearsed but never stiff.)  Naomi lays out on PERDIDO (a good thing, considering the thin lyrics), BLUES WITH A BEAT (a Forties-sounding romp), DELTA BOUND (a pleasure at any tempo), and a grooving THESE FOOLISH THINGS.

This is a long expression of praise, but you will notice I haven’t listed all the delightful moments on the CD; were I to do so, the post would be three times longer.

You can download the CD here ($13) or see how to buy a physical disc on the same page . . . AND . . . you can hear all the tracks on the disc.  “If that don’t get it, well,  forget it right now,” to quote Jack Teagarden, more or less, on the 1947 SAY IT SIMPLE.  For more first-hand information, here is the band’s Facebook page, and here is Naomi’s page.

It’s all quite devilishly wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: STILL MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

fatbabiespress2

Yes!  Even more from one of the most gratifying jazz bands — and working bands — on the planet.  THE FAT BABIES can offer electrifying transcriptions of recordings both familiar and obscure, but they can wonderfully “go for themselves” in convincing solos and hot ensemble playing.  In the videos below, you’ll hear idiomatic and swinging evocations of Benny Carter, Joe Robichaux, Jelly Roll Morton, Andy Kirk, Jabbo Smith, and Bing Crosby (is that Nat W. Finston and the Paramount Orchestra I hear in the hills?) — beautifully done with no museum archaisms or modern “innovations.”  Just good fun — created by Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Paul Asaro, piano and an ANIMULE vocal; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, saxophones; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet.

I’ve posted a goodly number of Fat Babies videos from the Evergreen Jazz Festival hereherehere, and here — so no one can go to the larder and find it bare of salutary Fat.  But my videos (I’m proud of them) are nothing compared to the experience of hearing and seeing this band live, so the message should be clear.

KRAZY KAPERS:

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

THE SOPHOMORE:

THE ANIMULE DANCE:

PLEASE:

WEIRD BLUES:

KING KONG STOMP:

Check their website to see their schedule, learn about their new CD, and more. I see they will be back at the Evergreen Jazz Festival at the end of July 2017.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S FAT LIKE THAT”: MORE FROM THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 30, 2016)

Rainbow One

One of the great pleasures of the summer of 2016 was the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado.  There I and others enjoyed the Carl Sonny Leyland trio with Clint Baker and Jeff Hamilton; the Kris Tokarski trio with Tim Laughlin and Hal Smith (and guest star Andy Schumm), and the Fat Babies, with Beau Sample, Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, Paul Asaro,  Jake Sanders, and Alex Hall.

I’ve posted videos from the Fat Babies’ July 29 set here.  And some especially Fat music here. And even here.

Here are three more from the next day’s frolic.

The first, a composition from 1925 where Louis Armstrong plays slide whistle as well as cornet with his Hot Five, WHO’S IT . . . which I am assuming might have something with playing tag or an adult version rather than being a metaphysical inquiry into the slippery parameters of identity.

whos-it

Here are the Fat Babies romping through the thickets of swing:

Another Louis-related item, I AIN’T GONNA PLAY NO SECOND FIDDLE, which he recorded with Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools as well as with Bessie Smith:

and Jimmie Noone’s APEX BLUES:

And here is my review of the band’s latest CD — on the Delmark Records label, SOLID GASSUH — a disc whose virtues I do not exaggerate.

Support The Fat Babies!  They’re remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

TRUTH IN (HOT) ADVERTISING: THE FAT BABIES, “SOLID GASSUH,” DELMARK RECORDS 257

We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.

solid-gassuh

“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

SO FAT, SO GOOD (Part One): THE FAT BABIES at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 29, 2016)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Wonder of wonders (continue) with the Miracle Boys of Hot, The Fat Babies, at their July 29, 2016.  Even the elk were swinging.  They are (of course) Alex Hall, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Dave Bock, trombone; Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

PLEASURE MAD (later known as VIPER MAD, by Sidney “Bash-shay” in any case:

HE MAY BE YOUR MAN (BUT HE COMES  TO SEE ME SOMETIMES):

and a quick but satisfying set-closer, MAPLE LEAF RAG, Charles LaVere 1935 style:

So hot it’s delightful.  And another whole Evergreen set to come.

And . . . the Babies have three CDs out on the Delmark label: CHICAGO HOT, 18th and RACINE, and the new Baby, SOLID GASSUH, as well as two featuring Paul Asaro on Rivermont, WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM (devoted to Fats) and SWEET JAZZ MUSIC (for Jelly).  Lay in a supply.  They say it’s going to be a cold cold winter.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, FAT THAT THING!” THE FAT BABIES, featuring PAUL ASARO and JOHN OTTO, PLAY FATS WALLER (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 29, 2016)

The most difficult part of this blogpost has been trying to find a polite title for the congenial combination of THE FAT BABIES and THOMAS “FATS” WALLER, but I think I’ve managed to be as little offensive as possible.  I hope.  No suggestions solicited, please.

Here are three performances by that wonderful octet — Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto and Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Jake Sanders, banjo / guitar; Beau Sample, leader / string bass; Alex Hall, drums — at the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Evergreen, Colorado, on July 29, 2016.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

THE FAT BABIES, before Jonathan Doyle had joined the band.

From Fats’ first published song (based on THE BOY IN THE BOAT, as we know), onwards to a sadder one:

Finally, the delightful Jimmy McHugh tune that Fats made his own — performing it in the 1935 film KING OF BURLESQUE.  (Then, it got taken up by Louis and others, happily):

On all these performances, the ebullient Paul Asaro — striding, singing, and smiling — stands out, as he always does.  Paul has made two CDs — tributes to Waller and Morton — with the Fat Babies, issued on Rivermont Records.

More to come from Colorado — and if you’re near Chicago, you can hear The Fat Babies live.  http://www.thefatbabies.com/ is their website and performing schedule.  And — even more! — I’m waiting for a copy of their latest release, correctly titled SOLID GASSUH (!) on Delmark Records.

Hotter than a fat baby, for sure.

May your happiness increase!

DELEGATES OF PLEASURE: THE FAT BABIES (Part One) AT THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL, JULY 29, 2016

Rainbow One

I first heard The Fat Babies at the San Diego Jazz Fest, and of course enjoyed their CDs and the videos of their performances from Chicago.  But the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival offered a special treat: several sets of this very accomplished and joyous hot band at close range, where I could see and hear them in all dimensions.  I had a wonderful time, and I wasn’t alone.

If The Fat Babies are new to you, I won’t let too many words get in the way of instant access to pleasure.  They are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, arrangements, compositions; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocal; Jake Sanders, guitar and banjo; Beau Sample, string bass and leader; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire is primarily from the very early Twenties to a decade later, with a goodly sampling of hot material — from the obscure to the familiar — delivered with energy and precision, but there are also wonderful detours into early Bing (instrumentally) and esoteric pop of the period.  And at a time when many bands devoted to this repertoire are Either / Or — offering exact transcriptions of venerable recordings or loose jam session romps on hallowed material, The Fat Babies move easily and without pretension between the two worlds.  And their whimsical title notwithstanding, they are an impressively lean band: their eight pieces are as effective, even more so, than some larger units.

I  nominate them as Delegates of Pleasure for this century.

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Here’s proof, if proof is needed.

ORIENTAL MAN (a video I keep on playing over and over, and it’s not for the cinematography, I assure you):

LIVIN’ IN THE SUNLIGHT, LOVIN’ IN THE MOONLIGHT (a Bing tune c. 1933, which sounds like a remarkably good life-plan, and the performance is the very definition of Hot Dance):

GET OUT AND  GET UNDER THE MOON (another excellent life-plan — preach it, Brother Asaro!):

UP TOWN (composed and arranged by Andy, a most convincing evocation of 1930-1 hot):

SALLY OF MY DREAMS (I know of only a few recordings of this — by the Dorsey Brothers, Ben Pollack, and Gregor and his Gregorians; Paul takes the vocal here):

The Fat Babies have made two CDs on their own, issued on the Delmark label, and another backing Marty Grosz.  I’ve heard tell that their third, SOLID GASSUH (truth in advertising) is ready to be released any second now.  I can’t wait.  And there will be more videos from Evergreen, I promise.

May your happiness increase!

FAT, HOT, GOOD: THE FAT BABIES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 28, 2014)

Seriously hot: the Fat Babies take on jazz classics, pop tunes, and obscure delights at the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 28, 2014).  They are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle (a guest star from Austin, Texas), reeds; Andy Schumm, cornet, arrangements.  They’re a favorite band of mine and they have a loyal following.

A small caveat: You’ll hear some sweetly animated conversation from a few people to my right.  I try to regard it as gently surrealistic commentary.  I was trained to respect my elders, even when they are oblivious, so JAZZ LIVES listeners bear the burden of my politeness. It’s too late to get annoyed at the audience (very pleasant people).  Or me.

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

Johnny DeDroit’s THE SWING:

From the Perry Bradford and his Jazz Phools book — originally featuring a young Louis Armstrong, LUCY LONG:

Bixiana! OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

More Bixiana! BIG BOY:

Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, and the mysterious Floyd Mills’ CHICAGO RHYTHM:

A blues made memorable by a Jack Teagarden cornet chorus, IT’S SO GOOD [or, as Michael McQuaid once announced it at Whitley Bay, IT’S NO GOOD]:

A hot Henderson opus, COME ON, BABY!:

A pop tune recorded by Jack Linx and other worthies, OH, ME, OH, MY:

A Twenties pop ballad, SAVE YOUR SORROW:

Jumping forward into wild modernity, Paul pays homage to a delicious Fats Waller record of I’LL DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING:

Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM (not personally):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (a little laginappe: a jam session for two reeds — John Otto and Jon Doyle — and the rhythm section):

Good hot sounds. There will be more good music at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place from Nov. 25-29.  Details will be available here, and I promise to write more about the Fest as the autumn gets closer.

May your happiness increase!

RED HOT! THE FAT BABIES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 28, 2014)

Authentic Mexican food, hot Chicago Twenties jazz, the warmth of the San Diego Jazz Fest . . . what more could anyone want?

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Here’s just a taste.  The Fat Babies take on the Doc Cooke / Freddie Keppard classic at the San Diego Jazz Fest (Nov. 28, 2014): they are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Paul Asaro, piano; Jake Sanders, guitar / banjo; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Andy Schumm, cornet.

And that tamale is filled with good things: idiomatic but loose ensemble playing, hot horn solos, bass-drum accents, stride piano, Charleston rhythms, ensemble shouts . . . a very satisfying plateful:

More to come.  And should the Fat Babies be new to you, look for their two Delmark CDs, CHICAGO HOT and 18th AND RACINE — each a delight.

May your happiness increase! 

KEEPING JAZZ LIVELY: THE FAT BABIES, “18th AND RACINE”

For some musicians and many audience members, honoring the innovative music of the past is a nearly academic matter.  To them, one should treat a 1927 McKenzie-Condon recording as if it were a Mozart score, and make it come alive in this century through absolute idiomatic fidelity to the original.

This approach, a heartfelt reverence for the past, can have electrifying results. Hearing a trumpet player exquisitely reproduce a Louis solo has always made me want to cheer, and I am sure that Louis would have seen this as an act of love — a love that took skill, expertise, and hours of diligence.

But I wonder if all the truly innovative musicians of the past would have delighted in this form of reverence.  Would Bix be cheered to know that somewhere, right now, a cornet player is reproducing his solo on SINGIN’ THE BLUES?  I have my doubts; after all, he told Jimmy McPartland that what he liked most about jazz was its innate unpredictability, that no one knew what was going to happen next. Lester Young said that he felt hemmed in by the players who had copied his every mannerism and then presented it as a style.

For me, the most rewarding music balances its obeisances to the past (often encapsulated in recordings) with freshness, the delicious uncertainty of surprise, of risk, of invention within an idiom.

My readers may not agree with this, and I won’t demean the contemporary player who, in honoring an idol, reproduces his every nuance as a tribute and a beautiful piece of “acting.”  And innovation has to be aware of context: the young tenor player in the 2014 “Swing Era” big band, soloing on STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, who launches into a Wayne Shorter meditation, pleases me not at all.

I offer here another energized example of how one might honor the past without dishonoring the present — the second compact disc by the Chicago-based hot band, THE FAT BABIES (Delmark Records):

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I thought their first CD, CHICAGO HOT, was superb — you can read my encomium here, and this one is even better.

The musicians are Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums; Jake Sanders, tenor banjo, Paul Asaro, piano / vocal; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, clarinet / alto saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet / alto saxophone — with incidental singing by the members of the ensemble and arrangements by Schumm, Asaro, and Otto.  The songs are LIZA (Condon-Rubens), TILL TIMES GET BETTER, THE STAMPEDE, MABEL’S DREAM, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS), 18th AND RACINE (an original by Andy), KING KONG STOMP, EL RADO SCUFFLE, OH BABY, STARDUST, I’LL FLY TO HAWAII, OH ME! OH MY!, THE CHANT, BLUEBERRY RHYME.  Experienced jazz listeners will be able to tick off the associations here: James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Joseph Robichaux, Jimmie Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Jabbo Smith, Eddie Condon, Brad Gowans, Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, and more.

But the Fat Babies do more than reproduce old records.  They invent within the familiar architectures; honoring hallowed introductions and endings, they create energetic, personal statements — so that the results sound both idiomatic and fresh, with influences and shadings in motion on every track.  The ensemble is lively and flexible; the solos are rewarding; the rhythm section swings along mightily.  And there’s a group vocal on I’LL FLY TO HAWAII — more than anyone could ever ask for.

The CD doesn’t sound like a brilliant history lesson.  Rather, it sounds like a happy gathering of the faithful who have understood that “going for yourself”  — as Fats and Billie, Chick Webb, and Freddie Keppard did — is the true jazz gospel.

Whether or not you share my sentiments about recreation, repertory, innovation, originality, or not, you owe it to yourself to investigate this session.  It’s alive, and that’s always a good thing.  Revering the dead by making sure what they created never moves again might not be what the dead, once living, wanted for themselves.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL STUFF, ONE FLIGHT UP: CARL SONNY LEYLAND,KIM CUSACK, BEAU SAMPLE, ALEX HALL: “STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS”

When it comes to food, we might not know how to create something authentic in the kitchen, but we certainly know what the real thing tastes like, whether it’s a tomato from the garden, genuine ethnic cuisine, or good home cooking.  It doesn’t have to be fancy: a slice of good bread is true nourishment.

Deciding what’s “authentic,” “the real stuff,” “the truth,” in jazz or any other art form can be exhausting, sure to create debate among the faithful.

But most of us would agree that we admire musicians who not only know their instruments superbly, but can make music that is both deep and intuitive — playing from the heart, evoking joy, sorrow, creating melodies while keeping the rhythm moving.  We want to remember the music once the applause has died down, once the disc has faded into silence.

Pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland and reed master Kim Cusack are authentic through and through.  Their music comes from deep experience and deep feeling: it conveys the wonderful balance of exuberance or grief and the craft to express it fully and convey it whole to us.  Thanks to Bryan Wright’s Rivermont Records, we can experience their casual assurance first-hand in a new quartet recording, STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS, where they are given the best support from bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall — names familiar to anyone who’s delighted in the Fat Babies.

Carl-Kim CD FinalSome compact discs charm us initially but pall after a few songs.  Not this one. It’s a series of delights — the songs take us to different places without administering violent shocks, and the sound is reassuringly natural.  The songs are AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / BLUE PRELUDE* / CHEROKEE / CORRINE CORRINA* / IF I HAD YOU / THE BLUE ROOM / UPSTAIRS BOOGIE / WE THREE* / THE LOVE NEST / TANGERINE / RAMBLIN’ MIND BLUES / WHISPERING / TELL IT TO THE JUDGE.

Starting from the back, the rhythm playing couldn’t be better: the right notes, the best harmonies, a light yet powerful beat.  Beau and Alex don’t use or need attention-getting tricks: they play for the band in the most reassuring, uplifting ways.  

I have heard Kim on clarinet (in person) for the past few years, and admire his playing greatly: a sweet-tart evocation of people like Darnell Howard — with no affectations, no showing-off, just heart, intelligence, wit, and power. But I hadn’t ever heard Kim play alto saxophone before, and on this often-abused instrument he is a little-celebrated master: you’ll have to hear him to know what I mean.

And Mister Leyland.  I’ve had the privilege of learning from him at every performance, taking lessons in creativity, intensity, relaxation, and joy.  But I fear that some casual listeners have already decided the little boxes he fits in to: “boogie-woogie pianist” and “blues singer.”  Yes, but no.  Carl Sonny Leyland is a great improvising jazz artist and a wonderfully moving singer: hear his WE THREE and BLUE PRELUDE to understand that he is delivering the best messages straight to our hearts.

The band — as a quartet — knows how to do the cakewalk, how to rock that thing, how to swing their upstairs room so that the house is swaying, how to feel a ballad, how to have a good time.  STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS is a small flat package of infinitely expandable pleasure — with two extra added attractions. One, perhaps only record collectors will appreciate — but the format of the back cover is a hilariously exact homage to a Columbia Records design circa 1954. You’ll know it when you see it.  And the liner notes, written by Mister Leyland, are just like him: wry, perceptive, funny, never pretentious.

I have a wall of compact discs and more music than I can possibly ever listen to again, but I’ve been playing STOMPIN’ UPSTAIRS regularly and frequently.     

Here is the Rivermont Records’ page where you can hear samples of seven of the songs . . . and where you can buy the CD.  I predict you will want to do just that.  (And no one at Rivermont would be upset if you browsed around their other offerings, featuring a wide variety of good sounds — archival and modern.)

May your happiness increase!

“RED HOT! THAT’S WHAT!”: THE FAT BABIES ON DISC: “CHICAGO HOT”

Sometimes — even in this age of instantaneous communication — we are surprisingly insular.  I had heard a good deal about this marvelous Chicago hot jazz band called, oddly, THE FAT BABIES.  I knew they would be superb because of the musicians I knew: Andy Schumm, cornet and more; Paul Asaro, piano;  Dave Bock, trombone and more; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; and Jake Sanders, tenor banjo — all players I had heard in person and of course admired.  Alex Hall, drums, and Beau Sample, string bass / leader, were names new to me, but I figured that musicians are known by the company they keep.

At the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party I acquired a copy of their new Delmark CD, CHICAGO HOT, and before I had a chance to listen to it, I also became the happy owner of WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM — a Fats Waller and his Rhythm project led by Paul Asaro, this on the Rivermont label.  You can read my unashamedly ecstatic review of the Rivermont CD here.

CHICAGO HOT

CHICAGO HOT is accurately titled.  I was listening to it in the car today, and if you’d seen a very happy man at a stop light grinning like mad and clapping his hands and bobbing his head . . . three guesses as to that man’s identity.

Before I begin to explain and rhapsodize — for I can do no less — if you visit the band’s website here, you can hear samples from the CD.  The personnel is as mentioned above: Schumm, Bock, Otto, Asaro, Sanders, Sample, and Hall — with tuba legend Mike Waldbridge joining the band for the final track.  The song titles will state where this band is at: SNAKE RAG / LONDON CAFE BLUES / SAN / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I SURRENDER, DEAR / DARDANELLA / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN (with vocal interjections that I have taken as this post’s title) / FROGGIE MOORE / WILLOW TREE / WEARY BLUES / LIZA / PLEASE / SUSIE / TIGHT LIKE THIS / STOMP OFF, LET’S GO.  So you’ll note the exalted Presences: Papa Joe, Jelly Roll, Louis, Fats, James P., Keppard, Doc Cooke, Bix, Miff, Bing, and their pals.  No vocals or jiving around — no funny-hat stuff — just CHICAGO HOT.

The Fat Babies have accomplished something brilliant on this disc and, I gather, continue to do so regularly in front of living audiences at Chicago venues and elsewhere.  That is, they easily handle the question of “transcription,” “imitation,” “emulation,” “evocation,” and creative reinvention.  What do all those words mean?  Put plainly, although many of the performances on this disc are based on hallowed recordings, I never got the sense that these living players were attempting to “play old records live.”  Their success, for me, is in the way they imbue these monumental artifacts with their own personalities, playing within the style but feeling free to move around in it.

Thus, for one example, Paul Asaro, when faced with a thirty-two bar solo on a song made immortal by Louis Armstrong in 1928, doesn’t place on himself the burden of “becoming” Earl Hines or “reproducing” Earl’s famous chorus.  No — Paul Asaro plays Asaro in those thirty-two bars, drawing on a deep knowledge of Morton, Waller, and a thousand other sources.

Dave Bock sounds like someone who’d be first call for a 1929 Henderson date; John Otto moves from Rod Cless to Darnell Howard.  Andy Schumm, who has legions of starry-eyed admirers who want him to do nothing but become Bix before their eyes, evokes the tougher, more vibrato-laden work of Dominique and George Mitchell with a lovely mix of power and delicacy.

And that rhythm section!  I could listen to Asaro, Sanders (very wistful single-string solos and driving rhythm), Sample (somewhere Milton J. Hinton is grinning admiringly), Hall (who moves nimbly from the heavy brushwork Tommy Benford favors to evocations of Chauncey Morehouse, early Jo Jones — before Basie — George Stafford, Wettling, and other heroes) — swinging!

That swing is worth noting in itself.  Too many recordings / concerts devoted to some historically-accurate notion of what “early jazz” sounded like are at a distance from loose, happy swing.  Now, I know that what constitutes “swing” and “swinging” changes from decade to decade and from individual subjective perception, but the Fat Babies don’t feel compelled to imitate the rhythmic conventions of a 1923 recording just because the Gennett disc captured a particular sound.  But they don’t “update” in annoying ways: there are no quotes from ANTHROPOLOGY or BLUE SEVEN.

Too many words?  Take a look at this, recorded by my friend Jamaica Fisher Knauer:

To quote Chubby Jackson, “Wasn’t that swell?”  Or Alex Hill, “Ain’t it nice?”  (As someone who has a smartphone but doesn’t center his life around it, I must say that this video — and others by “victorcornet21” are the only reason to even considering buying an iPhone.)

I don’t write this about all that many discs, but CHICAGO HOT is a splendidly essential purchase if you feel as I do about hot music, exquisitely and expertly played.

And a postscript.  Liner notes are sometimes as energetically effusive — and just as accurate — as the blurbs on the back cover of a best-selling book.  But Kim Cusack, reed wizard and singer, doesn’t do such things.  He is outspoken and candid about the music he loves and the arts he practices — so notes by Kim are both a rare honor and testimony to his joyous endorsement of this band.

And — as a bonus — I learned from those notes what the band’s (to me) odd name was.  It comes from an expression young Beau Sample heard in his home state, Texas: “It’s hotter than a fat baby.”  Now you know.

May your happiness increase.

“WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM”: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES PLAY FATS WALLER AND HIS RHYTHM (Rivermont Records)

Fats Waller left us in 1943.  Both he and his swinging little band — his Rhythm — are inimitable.  But jazz musicians have a good deal of fun trying, in their own ways, to evoke their joyous spirit.  And their efforts give us joy, too.  Dick Wellstood had his Friends of Fats; Mark Shane has FATS LIVES!

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The most recent — and highly successful — effort is captured on a new Rivermont Records CD: PAUL ASARO and THE FAT BABIES: WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM / THE FATS WALLER RHYTHM PROJECT (BSW-2222). Paul Asaro has been a sweetly propulsive pianist and equally fine singer for some years now, and this CD captures him in great form with a band of musicians who are working on his level — the hot Chicago band led by string bassist Beau Sample, with Alex Hall (drums); Jake Sanders (guitar); John Otto (reeds); Andy Schumm (cornet).

How good is this session?  Two critical reactions will have to suffice here.  One is that I received the disc in the mail (a holiday present from a jazz friend!), listened to it last night and this afternoon, and am impelled to let you know about it as soon as possible.  The second is a small experiment I conducted — and it’s one of those you can indeed try at home in complete safetly.  I put the CD into the Beloved’s computer (two rooms away) and let it start up.  “Is that Fats?” she said immediately.  When I explained that it was a modern band in the Waller spirit, she said, “Wow, they are swinging like mad.”  And the Beloved knows Swing.

On the surface, this project looks familiar: fourteen songs, all but one of them recorded by Fats and the Rhythm between 1934-1941.  But there is nothing formulaic about this disc.  For one thing, there’s no lengthy renditions of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW,  or HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  Some of the songs are familiar — YOUR FEET’S TOO BIG, TRUCKIN’, BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU — but the majority are lesser-played, and some are deliciously obscure: YOU’RE MY DISH, ABDULLAH, GOT NO TIME, and WINTER WEATHER. Paul sings on several of the songs, but he is wise enough not to attempt Fats’ particular brand of theatrical jocularity.  And the players are on their own to tell their own stories — a great thing.

What distinguishes this disc from other Waller-inspired evocations is its overall gentleness and sweetness.  Yes, a number of the performances are up-tempo romps so that Paul can show off his considerable stride chops and the band can make any good-sized building sway back and forth, but much of the disc is devoted to sweet-tempered rhythm ballads — coaxing rather than stomping. Paul is responsible for this musical worldview, which makes the CD easy to love rather than difficult to endure (many CDs, however well-meant, grow tedious because of a sameness of approach) but the players here offer their most friendly selves.

The rhythm section of Hall, Sample, and Sanders chooses simplicity over virtuosity; they glide rather than push, and the music breathes beautifully.  John Otto is characteristically subtle on tenor and clarinet, with none of the dramatics Fats’ reedmen sometimes drifted towards.  And then there’s Andy Schumm — making the whole enterprise glow with a delicate sound that of course recalls a mid-Thirties Bix . . . but I thought more often of the young Bobby Hackett on the Decca Dick Robertson sides and, at times, what would have happened if Joe Smith had lived.

This edition of the Rhythm — 2012 style — is precious, and I  can only hope that Paul and company achieve their next dream,  which is a CD of songs Fats never recorded done in this blissful way.

Here’s  the Rivermont Records Facebbok page, and their website.  (Visit the website and hear excerpts from the disc.)

But wait!  There’s more.  This recording is available both as standard audio CD and also as an audiophile-grade vinyl LP limited to 500 copies (in your choice of crystal clear or standard black vinyl). BONUS: Each LP includes a complimentary CD copy of the entire album.  Enjoy the album on vinyl and CD for the same price as the CD alone.

Yum yum yum, to quote Mr. Waller.

May your happiness increase.