Tag Archives: Bechet-Spanier Big Four

FOUR BY FOUR IN 4 / 4: “The Unaccounted Four,” Scheveningen, July 2015

I’ve written about the wondrous quartet, whimsically called THE UNACCOUNTED FOUR, as often as I could: here, herehereherehere. They make music that is both cerebral and welcoming.

The unusual proliferation of hyperlinks should indicate my enthusiasm, but a few words might help for those who would rather read than click.

Amsterdam, 11 januari 2015 – Gala van de verkiezing van de Amsterdammer van het Jaar in de Stadsschouwburg. Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four brengt een muzikale ode aan de genomineerden. Foto: Mats van Soolingen

Menno Daams’ Unaccounted Four, Amsterdam.  Photograph by Mats van Soolingen.

The Unaccounted Four is a quartet of trumpet, clarinet / tenor, guitar, bass. Historically-minded readers will think of the Django-Rex Stewart session, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, and in our century, the EarRegulars.  And all of those connections would be valid, although the U 4 leans more to the pensive than the combative, with echoes of the Alec Wilder Octet.

The U 4 is swinging, melodic, deeply thoughtful and playful all at once.  And they have understood something about time as well — and I don’t mean simply a swinging flexible 4 / 4.  If modern physics — and modern art — have helped us understand that time is more a field than a series of beads on a string, the U 4 enacts that easy flexibility in the most charming ways.  In their playing, hot jazz and The Birth of the Cool sit at the same table; Charlie Parker and Charlie Holmes go to the same reed repairman, and Miles smiles warmly at Louis.

Did I say that they have a wonderful CD, called PLAYGROUND?  They do. One could hear some of it here.  And here.

PLAYGROUND

For visual as well as auditory proof of this band’s happy approach to music and to our hearts, here are four videos from a July 2015 performance.

Nothing UNDECIDED here — sparkling chamber jazz that makes this familiar song sound exactly like new:

Then, Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY:

James P. Johnson’s SNOWY MORNING BLUES:

And Bix’s IN THE DARK:

Endearing lyricism is what I call it.

Now, I can’t make it out of the country for next Wednesday, but the U 4 will be playing a gig then.  More room for you!  Details here and here.

May your happiness increase!

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WORTH THE WAIT, WITH JOYOUS SURPRISES: THE EarRegulars’ FIRST CD!

The exclamation point in my title — something I use rarely — should tell you how I feel about a major Current Event.  The EarRegulars have finally released a CD, and it’s a beauty.

EarRegulars logo

For this disc, the ER are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, tárogató, cornet; Matt Munisteri, guitar (vocal on BABY); Greg Cohen, string bass. The session was recorded (beautifully) by Marco Birkner in Berlin, Germany, on March 23, 2014.  The disc — produced by Jon-Erik for his own gen-ERIK Records — is a delightfully minimalist production: artwork by Stephen Gardner on the cover, and a photograph of the EarRegulars in concert at the Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in  Kecskemét, Hungary, taken by József Hervai.

No rhapsodic / analytical liner notes (which I would love to have written), no credits for hair stylist and divine inspiration.  Just the music, about an hour’s worth: DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / GOOD OLD NEW YORK / THANKS A MILLION / I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES / I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / SOME OF THESE DAYS.

Fifty-five minutes and seventeen seconds of superb collective improvisation and lovely melodic playing by one of the most satisfying bands we’ll ever hear. Head arrangements rather than transcriptions, joy rather than routines.

One of the great pleasures of living in New York, for me, has been the ability to get regular infusions of the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday nights.  I’ve been there as often as possible since the group came together in the summer of 2007 — which makes it a very durable group by this century’s standards — enjoying myself tremendously.

Although I couldn’t swear to the ideological bent of the group, it is a truly democratic enterprise, not two horns out front with supportive rhythm players. No, the lead is always passed around from horns to guitar to string bass, and a lovely momentum is always sustained by riffs, backgrounds, trading choruses, swapping melody and improvised counterpoint.  An EarRegular performance — live or on disc — is like a small hip concerto, lyrical and hot, with many surprises, and the results are always both surprising and satisfying.  If you require famous antecedents, think of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, Soprano Summit, the grouping of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Eddie Durham, Walter Page . . . but the EarRegulars have been around to be their own standard of excellence, their video presence spread around the world.

On this disc, they are singularly inspired.  Often, a group that plays spectacularly in an informal setting finds the air of the recording studio a little chilly, and one can hear it in the performances: what was intense and natural in person becomes slightly less comfortable in a room full of microphones, someplace unnaturally still.  It didn’t happen for this recording.  I think that the wonderful exploratory spirit (“Let’s take some chances; let’s have fun; let’s not plan too much!”) that sustains Jon-Erik, Matt, Scott, and Greg was in the air.

The four players are involved in uniquely satisfying playground antics — improvisations that always land in surprising places without a hint of the formulaic.  And the songs are a lovely bunch, varied in tempo and approach. (Matt, one of the best singers I know, lends his own touch to a wistful BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME.)

I’ve been hesitant to write about this disc for fear of descending into apparent hyperbole, so I will say only this.  I’ve played it more than a dozen times, and each time I find myself smiling and even a little startled — “Wow, what are they doing now!”  I don’t think I will ever grow tired of it, and it far surpasses my expectations.  And I’ve been waiting for this disc almost since the group’s inception — most pleasures that have seven years of anticipation behind them are bound to be slightly disappointing, but not this session.

Let’s assume for a moment (unthinkable to me, but I must imagine it) that you’ve never heard the EarRegulars.  Here’s a sample:

How can you get one or more of these discs?

Don’t push; don’t crowd, please.

Ideally, one could come to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night and greet Mr. Kellso before or after the music starts with a handful of the appropriate currency. He and Mr. Munisteri might even autograph one for you. The price for a copy in person would be $15 USD. But if that’s inconvenient, there’s an online rescue: a reliable eBay seller (I can vouch for him myself) has them here — with postage, the total is $15.97 per disc.  A small price to pay for such pleasure.

Of course, you might like to visit The EarRegulars’ Facebook page. But   nothing will equal the pleasures of this particular disc, I assure you. Speaking of pleasure, though, and The EarRegulars have a new YouTube Channel to go with the new video and new album: find it here.

May your happiness increase!

ON MY WAY / TO WHITLEY BAY / WHERE GOOD TIMES ARE PLENTIFUL

Feel free to join in with my new song — doggerel created to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s JAMAICA FAREWELL: “I’m on me way / to Whitley Bay / won’t be back / till late Monday / I’m all excit’ / Won’t miss my flight / I know I’ll have a time / at Whitley Bay.”

Obviously, I have no reputation as a composer of calypso.

The omens and portents are much more favorable today than they were in 2012.  That trip that began with this weary traveler leaving his passport at home and making a costly racing roundtrip to retrieve it. The glorious jazz weekend ended with Superstorm Sandy and its global effects.   Of course, in both cases, I was helped immensely by generous strangers (at British Airways) and swing friends.

But Whitley Bay — now the Classic Jazz Party, formerly the International Jazz Festival — has been a special place since my first visit in 2009. There I met and admired Bent Persson, Aurelie Tropez, Nick Ward, Jacob Ullberger, Matthias Seuffert, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Norman Field, and two dozen others. There I basked in the wit and generosity of the late Mike Durham, who still remains a vivid presence. I will be looking around corners for him all weekend long.  And this year the visiting Americans aren’t so bad, either: Andy Schumm, Josh Duffee, Duke Heitger, Jeff Barnhart, Daryl Sherman.

This year’s party offers exciting thematic presentations: the music of Coon-Sanders, early Ellington, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Basie 1937, Johnny Dodds, Eddie South and Stuff Smith, rare Bix, rare Fats, California Ramblers, and more.  My camera batteries are charged and I feel the same way.

I wish I could sweep you all along with me, but the airlines are fussy about bringing unscheduled guests.  So I hope JAZZ LIVES readers have patience: I will video-record as much as possible, and subject to musicians’ approval, you will see much of it in the months to come.

I expect to be busy listening, recording, talking and hanging out — living life away from the computer — so if this blog seems quiet for this long weekend, don’t feel abandoned. I am simply gathering new material for your pleasure.

I don’t anticipate think that any of my readers has sufficient frequent flyer miles to jump on a plane right this minute, but “day tickets” are still available, £50 a day.  Details here.  But you’d have to be fairly close to Newcastle to make this possible.  (On a whim, I checked Expedia for round-trip from New York and the least expensive flight was $1500.)

By the time some of you read this, I will already be on a Delta flight to Newcastle by way of Amsterdam . . . a jazz pilgrim on one of the great pilgrimages, bearing notebook and camera, CDs and snacks, clothing, pills, and an umbrella — instead of a scallop shell.

See you back at the ranch on Tuesday, November 5!

Here’s a little music from the 2012 Party, a video of mine that has not been made public before, to lift up your spirits and embody what the weekend is all about.  Rene Hagmann, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet; Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass, performing THAT’S A-PLENTY in hono(u)r of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase!

BROADWAY GOES BECHET (September 9, 2013)

It’s not exactly what you might think: David Merrick hasn’t returned from the Great Beyond to stage a musical autobiography of Sidney Bechet.  A pity, because Bechet’s life is dramatic in itself, even leaving aside his heroic music.

But we don’t have to wait for a Broadway producer to take this on, nor do we have to wait until the right actor is found.   (I suspect a modern producer would insist on calling the show SIDNEY!)

Symphony Space

What I’m referring to is the opening concert of the Fall 2013 season of the Sidney Bechet Society.  Once again, the SBS has collected some of New York’s finest hot players to celebrate Bechet’s sweeping talents: as musician, composer, bandleader.

The players span the generations, but they all have the same spirit: exuberant swing.  Leader Ed Polcer, cornet, knows how to kick a band along — as he’s proven so often.  Next to him in the front line are the Midiri Brothers, Paul (trombone / vibraphone); Joe (clarinet / soprano saxophone), making their debut at a Bechet Society concert.  The rhythm section is made up of Three Rhythm Men of Great Renown: Mark Shane, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

And the press release hints at evocations of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, so you know the music will alternate between tenderness and dangerously incendiary.

Here’s one of the original 1940 masterworks, with Carmen Mastren, guitar, and Wellman Braud, string bass:

The concert will take place on Monday, September 9, 2013, beginning at 7:15, at Peter Norton Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway, or 2537 Broadway) in Manhattan.  Tickets are $35 ($10 students / children) and can be purchased by visiting symphonyspace or calling 212-864-5400.

May your happiness increase!

HORACE GERLACH and BADINAGE IN SWINGTIME: MARTY GROSZ, JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, and FRANK TATE (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 19, 2011)

A nifty quartet — and for once without one of Marty’s idiosyncratic names — performing on September 17, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.  That’s Marty on guitar, vocal, and repartee; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Scott Robinson on tenor saxophone, metal clarinet (he briefly considers his cornet in the final track); Frank Tate on string bass.  As always with Marty’s groups, I think of Fats and his Rhythm, the Kansas City Six, the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, the Delta Four, the 1940 Chocolate Dandies — sweet rhythmic contraptions that scrape the clouds.

Swing it on out there!  ALL MY LIFE:

Did someone say Fats Waller?  Why not SQUEEZE ME:

How about Fred Astaire and Johnny Mercer’s I’M BUILDING UP TO AN AWFUL LET-DOWN:

And — as a jazz dessert of sorts — a tribute to the under-acknowledged Horace Gerlach, two songs immortalized by Louis Armstrong: IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN (sung sweetly) and SWING THAT MUSIC with Jon-Erik keeping time, which he does so well:

I’m as happy as can be / When they SWING THAT MUSIC — not only for me, but for the larger audience and Posterity, too.