Tag Archives: Ben Polcer

“SWINGING NEW ORLEANS JAZZ: FOR DANCING — OR JUST LISTENING!”: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Kid Ory hasn’t really opened his California jazz club, nor has he come back in the flesh.  But his music has, joyously and intelligently.

This cheerful development in the twenty-first century is the handiwork of drummer, scholar, and bandleader Hal Smith, who’s been playing gigs with his ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND, which focuses on lively renditions of the music Ory played in the middle and later stages of his career.

And they’ve just released their debut CD.

I wrote happily about this band  (with performance videos) in December 2017, and you can see and hear more here.

Although Ory was born in the nineteenth century, he did not cling to a historical vision of the music.  His later recordings swung, and showed he and his musicians embraced performance styles more modern than 1926.  The ON THE LEVEE band is well aware of that gentle but persistent 4 / 4 rocking motion of jazz in the Thirties . . . and even beyond.

The virtues of the band require a brief digression.  I was once at a festival, sitting close enough to eavesdrop as the leader of a small ad hoc group called for a spectacular closing number.  It would be long, loud, with extended high-volume solos, and would conclude with a long drum and long horn solos.  The one horn player looked pained, and said to the leader, “Oh, I don’t want to do that,” to which the leader replied, “Do you want them standing and cheering at the end of the set?  Follow me!”  The horn player grudgingly complied; the chandeliers swung; the audience shrieked.  I thought I’d contracted tinnitus, but it went away. So, in this century, bands have often tried to grab an audience’s attention by manufactured excitement.  Songs are played faster and louder and with less subtlety, because the audience associates excitement with Hot.

Ory and his colleagues, including Joe Oliver, understood that jazz was essentially a dance music, to keep audiences in motion — or at least not blow them out of their seats.  Hal Smith and this new band understand that principle, so although the music is never Easy Listening (“The 101 Strings Play the Cassino Simpson Songbook”) it is easy on the ears and it promotes healing constant motion of the nicest kind.

The CD features Hal, drums and leader; Clint Baker, trombone; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass, performing ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / WANG WANG BLUES / BEALE STREET BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / MAPLE LEAF RAG / MILENBERG JOYS / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING / SAVOY BLUES / WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / DOWN HOME RAG / YELLOW DOG BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / PANAMA.

I know that song list looks resolutely “traditional,” and listeners might expect a repertory concert rather than swinging dance music.  But here’s evidence of just how light-on-its-feet this band is.

ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP:

MAPLE LEAF RAG (what a nice tempo!):

DOWN HOME RAG:

BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:

WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING:

In addition to the lyrical soloing by Polcer and Goldberg, there’s also the supple but rough-edged (I think of corduroy) sound and attack of Clint Baker, who evokes Ory at every turn.  And for me what makes this band glide rather than lumber is the deliciously mobile rhythm section — no banjo, no tuba, no two-beat — of Hal, striding Kris Tokarski, powerful yet floating Belhaj and Gouzy.  I don’t want to upset those who live for “authenticity,” but everyone in this band has heard 1938 Count Basie as well as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra.  And the result would have made the Kid smile.

You can, as they say, “follow them on Facebook” here — and visit the band’s very entertaining website here.  The CD is available from Hal, at gigs, at the Louisiana Music Factory, and I think soon it will be on sale in other forms and from other places.

May your happiness increase!

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“A WORKING BAND”: WELCOME THE RIVERSIDE JAZZ COLLECTIVE!

Some New Orleanians will glower at me for writing these words, but all the music marketed as “New Orleans jazz” is not equally satisfying or expert.  The proof is on the city’s streets or on YouTube.  All that’s apparently steaming is not Hot, to coin a new cliché.

But this post is to welcome a new band — the Riverside Jazz Collective — and their debut CD, which is a delight. It’s the brainchild of pianist / arranger Kris Tokarski (whom I admire greatly) and his congenial friends: Benny Amon, drums; Alex Belhaj, guitar, vocal; Tyler Thomson or Andy Reid, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal, or Alex Owen, cornet and vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Chloe Feoranzo, clarinet, vocal.

If you don’t know those names, you need a refresher course in Old Time Modern.

And the repertoire is lively and — even when venerable — fresh and joyous:
STOMP OFF, LET’S GO / IT BELONGS TO YOU/ JUST GONE / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN / WABASH BLUES / READY FOR THE RIVER / RIVERSIDE BLUES / DON’T LEAVE ME IN THE ICE AND SNOW / SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES  TO ME / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / SEE SEE RIDER / MELANCHOLY BLUES / SOCIETY BLUES / WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME.

That’s a wholly “traditional” repertoire, with nods to Louis Armstrong, Erskine Tate, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jimmie Noone, Tony Jackson, and more — but happily it isn’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?  Nothing’s routine or stale here.

Here is the band’s Facebook page — where you can learn about their next gigs.

I’d asked Kris if he needed a liner-note writer, by which I meant myself, and I was delighted when he said yes.  Here’s what I wrote, in a very short time, because the music hit me hard in the nicest ways:

In the old days, when one could see the liner notes on the back of the “record,” or the “lp,” those paragraphs served a commercial purpose: to make the undecided purchaser head to the cash register at a trot, clutching the record. Today, the purchaser might read the notes after buying the CD (or perhaps not at all): so I write to share my enthusiasm. And there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about the Riverside Jazz Collective.

Musicians I know speak of “playing tunes,” as in “Oh, we played some tunes,” which suggests that on those occasions there is little written music but much collective joy that comes out of well-earned knowledge of the music. The RJC knows the original records and they may have “roadmaps” as in “Second chorus is stop-time for cornet and piano only,” but they aren’t trying to create imitations of the classics in the best sound. And they have the comfortable ease and friendliness – to us, to each other – of A Working Band, something delicious and rare.

The RJC is interested in “old” songs that are melodically and emotionally durable – from joyous stomps to love songs to one Chicago lament that says, “You know what? I’m going to kill myself,” even if the lyrics are too witty for that to be a real threat. Their repertoire is often “New Orleans jazz,” however you might define it, as it surfaced in other cities, notably Chicago. And one can point to a good number of Ancestors here, from Tony Jackson to Louis Armstrong to Oliver, Morton, Keppard, Bunk, and Ory.

This band also enacts a neat balance between collective improvisation and solos, but they bring a little twenty-first century energy, elegance, and intelligence to their hot reverence. Enthusiasm is the driving force here, not cautious antiquarianism. This band has also heard jazz created after 1927, and that awareness gives these performances a happy elasticity, an optimistic bounce. Hear HERE COMES THE TAMALE MAN for a brilliant example of sonic joy-spreading. I could explain more, but it would cost extra.

It feels good, and it feels real. You know there are mountains of what I’d call “tofu music” being marketed as genuine, but your ears, your feet, and your heart tell you when the jazz has been manufactured in a lab by chemists. I greet the Riverside Jazz Collective at the start of what I hope is their brilliant career. My words are written in a time of ice and snow, but the music warms and embraces. And now IT BELONGS TO YOU.

Visit here — and these compact versions of spiritual uplift can belong to you, either as download or disc; you can hear samples of the music as well.

Welcome to the Riverside Jazz Collective.  They spread joy: I hope they find prosperity and appreciative audiences.

May your happiness increase!

SPICY DELICIOUS MUSIC: THE DORO WAT JAZZ BAND

Doro Wat is the national Ethiopian dish, a spicy chicken stew.  I recall eating it in Oakland, California.  Exhibit A:

but there’s also Exhibit B, 49 minutes and 52 seconds of spicy music:

and the back cover:

You need read no more.  Listen!

The band is slightly more than a year old, and it’s a wonder: T Werk Thomson, string bass; John Rodli, guitar; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal.  The beautiful recording was done by John Dixon at the Spotted Cat; the singular typography is by SEEK1 and TOPMOB!.

And the repertoire — which tells an educated listener how wise and deep this hot band is: JUBILESTA / OH, PETER / AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES / JAMAICA SHOUT / POTATO HEAD BLUES / TIGHT LIKE THIS /  BUGLE CALL RAG / RUMBA NEGRO (Latin) / RUMBA NEGRO (Swing) / IF I WERE YOU / SAN / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / BLUE BLOOD BLUES.  Just to point out the forbears, how about Ellington, Red Allen, the Rhythmakers, Bennie Moten, Teddy Wilson, James P., Mister Jelly Lord, Louis.  And there’s a delightful freedom in their homages: this music comes from the heart, not from someone’s imposed notion of what “trad” or “New Orleans jazz” is.  It’s free-flowing and glorious.

Here’s T Werk’s own narrative about the birth of a band, verbatim from Facebook:

February 23 at 10:51am ·
About one year ago I got a call from John Rodli asking me if I wanted to play a gig with him at Three Muses on Friday night. I said something along the lines of “Duh, Idiot. Totally down.” Being Rodli, he didn’t book anybody for the gig and asked me to just throw something together last minute. That first gig had Ben Polcer, James Evans, Rodli, and myself on it. After that gig we immediately realized that we had something totally killer going on here. Once we locked down a weekly gig at Three Muses is when this band really took shape. We were able to add two of the most bad ass musicians I know to fill out the band’s lineup. Charlie Halloran and David Boeddinghaus (🛥🏠). With that killer lineup already rolling we had to add Tom Fischer on reeds as well because we’re all totally insane. After playing for a few months we realized that it was time to make a CD. In November we booked off two days to make a record not realizing that we would only need the first 3 hours and 8 minutes of the first day to record the whole thing. As a musician, going into a studio and coming out three hours later with a killer product is one of the best feelings you can have. That being said, we now have our first record available for purchase! A huge shout out goes to John A Dixon for absolutely CRUSHING the art work. Seek 1 & Top MOB for slaying the lettering and Sophie Lee Lowry and the staff at Three Muses for letting us have Three Muses as our homebase week after week. Keep an eye out for a CD release party coming up really soon. Until then you can purchase digital downloads of the album from band camp or through the Louisiana Music Factory later on today. Of course we will also have this CD for sale tonight at Three Muses from 9-12.
I’ve never been so proud to have my name on a record as I am with this one. Polcer, James, Charlie, 🛥🏠, Fischer and Rodli are the best musicians to work with and we get to do it every week. LET’S DO SHOTS!!

I’d say it a little differently: this recording makes me bounce with happiness.  The rhythm section is a thing of joy, and the soloists know how to speak in their own voices and to join as a choir — the goal of having a deeply melodic satisfying good time.  I keep getting stuck on the first track, that growly piece of Thirties Ellingtonia, JUBILESTA.  But I keep on playing this disc.  And you’ll notice I’m not explicating the music: if I had to do that, I’d despair of my audience.  You’ll hear just how fine DORO WAT is very quickly.  It’s restorative music that I’d like everyone to hear.

And from another angle: I was on a wobbly barstool at The Ear Inn last week, talking with my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, and I said, “You know, THIS is a Golden Age right now.”  DORO WAT is very convincing proof.  Thank you, kind wild creators.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGING FOR THE KID: HAL SMITH’S “ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND”

Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure.  His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.

But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so.  In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs.  Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4,  and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging.  At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.

Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties  has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms.  That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.

I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.

Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).

The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November.  I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.

For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos.  Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.

WEARY BLUES:

DOWN HOME RAG:

CARELESS LOVE:

PANAMA:

Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way.  And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.

May your happiness increase!

DANCING IN SOUND: KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMES EVANS, HAL SMITH (Bombay Club, Sept. 22, 2016)

Hal Smith, James Evans, Kris Tokarski, at the Bombay Club, New Orleans.

Here are three more beautiful interludes from slightly more than a year ago, in “that quaint old Southern city,” actually at the Bombay Club on Conti Street in New Orleans — an evening with Kris Tokarski, piano; James Evans, clarinet, vocal; Hal Smith, drums.

Earl Hines’ MONDAY DATE (which I am presenting in its streamlined title, having given up on the question of whether it is A, OUR, or MY):

Another visit to 1928 Chicago (just savor Hal’s beautiful rocking drumming!) with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE at a leisurely grooving tempo:

I almost never make requests, but I did ask James if he would play LOUISE — because I love the song (I think of Bing and Lester and Pee Wee) and I know it is the first name of the beautiful Missus Evans:

Even if you read this post on Saturday evening, November 11, and you are in New Orleans, you are not too late to hear some good sounds from Hal and Kris.  The facts: Hal will be leading his Kid Ory tribute band — the On The Levee Band — at the very same Bombay Club (830 Conti Street) from 8:30-11:30.  The band has Hal, drums / leader; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Clint Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Alex Belhaj, guitar.  If you can, you should.

May your happiness increase!  

BEAUTIFUL RIGHTEOUS ENERGIES: THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND, “STEPPIN ON THE GAS”

I’m late to the party but happy to have been invited.  Even without the proper apostrophe, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, the new CD by the Shotgun Jazz Band, is a total delight, a disc I play all the way through and want to rehear immediately.

The Shotgun Jazz Band has been recording for six years now, and their new disc offers the pleasure of richly-textured, solidly-grounded New Orleans jazz.  Here they are at The Spotted Cat in April 2016, with Marla Dixon, trumpet; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Tyler “Twerk” Thomson, string bass / vocal; Craig Flory, alto saxophone; Ben Polcer, piano:

This is a 2015 performance that shows their virtues: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147186666“>

 with Marla, John, Charlie, Twerk, and reedman James Evans.

This is a very revealing profile of the band from the “Enjoying Traditional Jazz” blog, written by “a very old guy [from Nottingham, England] who got into traditional jazz late in life, with much to discover, learn and pass on.”  The author calls himself “Pops Coffee” and his blog can be found here.

Back to the reason for this post, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, a consistently lively homage to the great songs — fully vitalized in this century — by Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, “trampagne”; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Twerk Thomson, string bass / vocal; and guests Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone / clarinet.  The Shotgun ensemble is its own pleasure (beautifully recorded at Luthjen’s Dance Hall, utilizing the acoustics of that space, without an audience, so that we hear subtle shadings and bold statements).  Special plaudits go to Earl Scioneaux III for engineering and mixing and to Bruce Barielle for mastering the disc.

The songs are GULF COAST BLUES*; WHITE GHOST SHIVERS; HOW AM I TO KNOW? (James, vocal); SHE’S CRYING FOR ME; MOONLIGHT BAY*; SMILES; I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU*; DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE* and band vocal; WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME*; ROSE OF BOMBAY; BREEZE*; CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART*; OLE MISS RAG; PRETEND*; MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME (Twerk / band vocal); GUILTY* (not the Al Bowlly ballad); STEPPIN ON THE GAS; DEEP RIVER.  The asterisks are for the tracks Marla sings on, and she is such a varied singer — tender or raucous — that I never got weary of her voice.

The pleasures start immediately with GULF COAST BLUES –David Boeddinghaus, sounding like a modern James P. Johnson alongside Marla Dixon’s powerful but understated blues singing; then James Evans adds his emotive, conversational alto saxophone and Twerk his beautifully centered string bass (a gutty yet swinging accompaniment that — heretically perhaps — is the ideal world that Bessie Smith rarely got to experience on records) . . . to James’ exquisite vocal on HOW AM I TO KNOW (which Louis performed on his first European tour!); a performance of ON MOONLIGHT BAY (one of those songs that hits me in some deep nostalgic part of my being, as does SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON) that lingers over the verse and then turns the second chorus into a shouting near-blues; a very fast, rollicking SMILES (with a stomping Boeddinghaus solo). . . I could go on, but I will leave the rest of the delights for the listeners.

The disc shows off beautiful vocalized instrumental solos, neither timid nor rough, shifting ensembles (this is neither a “recorded jam session” nor a banquet of recreations, but a comfortable middle ground) — where the lead moves around within the band, and instruments pair off in ways we might not expect: subtle harmonic depths, and an unfailing swing. Nothing more to ask for!

The six selections with an expanded front line: WHITE GHOST SHIVERS, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME,  DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, OLE MISS RAG, GUILTY, STEPPIN ON THE GAS — adding Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and alto saxophone — are extraordinary examples of ensemble playing that borders on the ecstatic while being expertly under control — a paradox when seen on the page, but completely understandable when heard.

If someone asks you what hot jazz sounds like in this century, or tells you that New Orleans jazz no longer exists, or that swing is a dying phenomenon — play that misguided soul STEPPIN ON THE GAS.  I would.

Here is the band’s website, with sound samples, and their Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

THE OPPOSITE OF DESTRUCTIVENESS IS KINDNESS, OR, TAKE A LOOK AT T WERK’S WORKS

I’m reposting this February 2017 post for a reason.  I’ve never met the string bassist and energetic recordist T Werk Thomson in person, but I’ve admired his work (or werk) from when I first heard it.  Simply, about a year ago, he created in his New Orleans home a recording studio.  Not with ProTools and his MacBook, but with a Presto disc cutter, a supply of “new” 78 recording blanks, and he set out to capture good music in the best old-time ways.  And that music — detailed below — was just splendid.  As well, I applauded the splendid eccentricity of his capturing it as hot jazz, cage-free, organic, and locally sourced.  (Another product of T Werk’s studio is Charlie Halloran’s superb CE BIGUINE.)

At the end of 2017, I and others learned that someone had maliciously vandalized T Werk’s studio and destroyed his disc cutter and all that it needed to make more records.  I won’t go into the dark details — this is a jazz blog, not an episode of a television cop show — but that act seemed spectacularly mean-spirited.  Jo Anna Mae Amlin set up a GoFundMe page here and some people have been contributing.  I encourage you to do so.  As Louis sings in SHOE SHINE BOY, “every nickel helps a lot,” and one can match altruism with desire. If T Werk gets his studio running again, there will be more records for us to enjoy. So even if kindness in the abstract seems more than you can do, kindness with a reward is worth the effort.  If everyone who’s heard T Werk swing out paid in the price of a large Starbucks drink, or a beer, or (for the antiquarians among us) a CD, he would be able to reconstruct his studio quickly.  (And I should point out that Presto disc cutters and acetate blanks are not items one can pick up at the corner store.)

So: help out someone who’s already done a great deal for the music and for us.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled effusions.

The CD below is delightfully weird but the results are entirely gratifying. Perhaps that sentence should properly read “and the results”: you decide.

Exhibit A.  The process:

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Twerk Thomson with Kris Tokarski and Ben Polcer, and two turntables. Photograph by John A. Dixon.

Exhibit A.1.a: A Presto disc cutter from eBay:

presto-cutter

Exhibit A.1.b: Blank discs, also from eBay:

presto-discs

Exhibit B. The result:

twerk-cd-cover

Exhibit B.1.a.:

bunk-popular

Exhibit C. The results, continued here.

Exhibiit D.  The explanation.  The story has different parts, which combine. Twerk Thomson is a young yet respected New Orleans string bassist, with a real understanding of the art form, often heard with the Shotgun Jazz Band.  And he, like other musicians and scholars, is fascinated by the intersection of “archaic” sound and the technology of its time. It’s one thing to get musicians into a modern studio — which, at its most “modern,” is a very restrictive environment, where musicians can barely see each other and hear each other through headphones . . . and then try to improvise music that will seem natural to the disc’s purchaser.  But what happens when you record twenty-first century improvisers with the technology of the previous century, the century that gave birth to the innovators they (and we) so admire?  The music I am celebrating in this post, created last year, is a tribute to Bill Russell’s American Music creations. And the new CD sounds wonderful.

But something needs to be said about the Presto home record cutter and discs. Before the computer and the iPhone . . . music used to be packaged tangibly on a variety of discs, and enterprising people could record their own music at home — whether it was Aunt Ella singing and playing hymns or the Paso Robles Wanderers working out the trio of MABEL’S DREAM.  I have found these discs at yard sales, and they’ve never offered something life-changing, such as a broadcast from the Reno Club, but they are tantalizing.  The whole idea is roughly parallel to another piece of archaic technology, the Polaroid camera, but I assure you the discs hold up better.

Twerk told me, “I got my first cutter about a year and a half ago, which ended up being completely useless.  So I ended up buying two more.  They come up on eBay every so often. Finding ones that were affordable was the big challenge.
Blanks come up on eBay as well but they are very hit and miss when It comes to quality. I actually ended up finding a bunch of original presto blanks on there once that were actually still usable. They came in the original packaging which was really cool.  But for higher quality blanks we use a company called Apollo, from California.”

The official version is “The performances herein were recorded live with one microphone into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm, and edited only for volume. All Sessions Produced by Twerk Thomson and Recorded by John Dixon, Live at Twerk-O-Phonic Studios, New Orleans, LA.”

The songs: OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / MY GAL SAL / PRETTY BABY / SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART / SWEET BYE AND BYE (Twerk Thomson, string bass; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Kris Tokarski, piano) / JADA / SHINE  / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU / NOON BLUES / MARIE / YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE / MELANCHOLY BLUES  (Twerk, John Rodli, guitar, vocal on JADA; Kris; Ben; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet; Charlie Halloran, trombone) / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE / POOR BUTTERFLY (Twerk, Russell Welch, guitar; Alex Owen, trumpet; Bruce Brackmon, clarinet; Marty Peters, tenor saxophone) / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / HOME (Twerk, tenor guitar; Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal).

Exhibit E: Twerk Thomson on Facebook.

If you’re familiar with any of the heroes recorded on this disc (and you can hear / download / purchase the music on the Soundcloud link above) you will know what to expect: music that is both romping and elegantly controlled, harking back to the Bunk Johnson – Don Ewell – Alphonso Steele trios and slightly larger ensembles.  The “vintage sound” — powerfully focused if somewhat narrower (at first) than we are used to — is so atmospheric.  The discs have occasional surface noise, whooshes and clicks, but the noise is part of the overall effect rather than something added on synthetically.  Everyone plays beautifully and with heart, so the result is not merely the documentation of a gimmick, but a melding of technology and reverent impulse.

I first heard a few of the individual sessions on Twerk’s Facebook page, and thought, “Wow, I hope he puts these into a form that people who want to get away from their computers can purchase and have.”  And he did.  So I can now time-travel to some indeterminate place whenever I want, even while driving to work.  And Twerk has also established Twerk-O-Phonic Studios as a place (a sanctuary for music!) where you can visit and record your own music onto an actual disc — a single artifact, not a mass-produced product — to have, to hear, to admire.  I don’t want this to become such a phenomenon that he no longer has time to play the propulsive string bass he does so well, but a little prosperity would be nice.

I commend this disc to you.  The music on it both embraces and transcends the technology.  And, to me, the complete idea — the musicians, the home environment, the discs — is heartwarming.

May your happiness increase!