Even to the casual viewer, this CD, just out on Rivermont Records, is immediately enticing. For one thing, and it cannot be undervalued, it has The Name on its cover — the dear boy from Iowa. Catnip to many. Then, Joe Busam’s lovely funny cover, perfectly evoking Jim Flora’s work — as well as presenting a band led by the splendid Andy Schumm. It also (in that band name) has an inside joke for the cognoscenti, who turn hot and cold on request. Some will delight in the concept, jazz time-travel, brought to us by the erudite Julio Schwarz Andrade, imagining what Bix would have played in a variety of contexts had he lived longer. The conceit does nothing for me (I think the dead have the right to be left alone, not dressed up for Halloween) but I love the music, thrilling in its ease and subtlety.
Hearing Andy Schumm, cornet; Ewan Bleach, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums — now, that’s a rare pleasure. You can see the song titles below, and the Musical Offering is neatly divided between a scattering of familiar tunes and some deeply lyrical ones that have become obscure. (I hadn’t heard THINGS and OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY before, and WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE is memorable to me only because of a wondrous recording by Spike Mackintosh.) The first ten songs were meant to be the official recording session, with the last two — hot “warm-up” performances added as a delightful bonus: we’re lucky the recording equipment was switched on.
Back to the music. There are lovely little touches. MOTEN SWING uses the riffs from the 1932 Victor recording, and the lyrical numbers still retain the slight bounce one would have heard in Thirties “rhythm ballads.” Indeed, the whole session has the delightful motion of, perhaps, a Marty Grosz session from the end of the previous century. This, of course, is helped along considerably by the wonderful Martin Wheatley — hear him on RAIN and elsewhere. The CD also reminded me most happily of sessions by Marty and by Ruby Braff because of the cheering variety of approaches within each performance. I offer the rubato Oliver-Schumm verse to THE NEARNESS OF YOU as a heartening example, followed by a poignant Bleach tenor solo. There’s none of the usual tedium that results from a surfeit of ensemble-solos-ensemble. (I think of certain live sessions in the Seventies I attended where after the requisite single ensemble chorus, the clarinet always took the first solo. Routine of this sort has a chilling effect.)
The members of the rhythm section, Messrs. Oliver, Wheatley, and Ball, add their own special bounce to the music. I know Andrew Oliver these days as a Mortonist and have known Nick Ball as a scholar of pre-Swing drumming, but they aren’t antique in any way. And the two Wheatleys, father and son, are a wonderful team: the right notes in the right places. As fine as Andy and Ewan are, one could listen to any track on this disc solely to revel in, and learn from, this rhythm team. As an example, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY.
Ewan Bleach is new to me and delightful: his work on either horn is floating and supple, and I never felt he was reaching for a particular phrase that someone had recorded eighty years ago. His solos have their own lithe charm and his ensemble playing is the great work of an intuitive conversationalist who knows when to add a few notes and when to be still. I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that I’d already admired his work with the Basin Street Brawlers. I hope the reaction to this CD is such that Mr. Bleach gets a chance to record a horn-with-rhythm session of his own.
And Andy Schumm. Yes. I just heard him in person in my Wisconsin jaunt, and he hasn’t ceased to amaze and please, whether leaping in to his solo, playing a wistful coda, or lyrically purling his way through one of the rhythm ballads I’ve mentioned above. To my ears — here comes another heresy — he isn’t Bix, nor is he the reincarnation of Bix. He is Andy Schumm, and that’s a wonderful thing, with its own joyous surprises.
Buy it here. I did. You won’t regret it.
May your happiness increase!