Tag Archives: Blue Swing Fine Recordings

A DECADE OF SWING AND FUN!

Congratulations are in order to the splendidly swinging Rebecca Kilgore Quartet (formerly known as B E D) — a very gratifying group that has just completed its first decade of appearances, recordings, and accolades.  They are Rebecca Kilgore, vocals and rhythm guitar; Eddie Erickson, vocals, guitar, banjo, and hi-jinks; Dan Barrett, trombone, cornet, arrangements, vocals, piano, and travelogues; Joel Forbes, string bass.

Here they are — plus the wonderful New Orleans clarinetist Tim Laughlin — to show us what true spaciousness, even amplitude means — I’ll translate that as THAT’S A PLENTY — recorded at the much-missed Sweet and Hot Music Festival in 2011:

There are many other small groups out there clamoring for our attention, but the RK4 is special.  For one thing, they are an engaging bunch: there is always laughter on the stand, and the audience is encouraged to join in.  This quartet quickly turns listeners into friends.  There’s always something happening during their performances, which are delightfully varied — Becky floats delicately above the rocking rhythms provided by Eddie and Joel; Dan takes a cornet solo backed by Eddie’s banjo; Eddie sings a tender ballad or Becky shows off her multilingual prowess in French or Portuguese.  Dan shifts over to the piano to turn the band into a modern King Cole trio . . . the hour goes by too quickly.

Here’s what I wrote in 2010 about their glorious CD, YES, INDEED!

The Rebecca Kilgore Quartet has appeared at jazz festivals and parties worldwide — from Roswell, New Mexico, to Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Monterey in California, to Odessa, Texas and Clearwater Beach, Florida; they’ve done concerts and student outreach programs; they’ve appeared on the JazzFest at Sea Cruise; they perform at private parties big and small.  Since they joined forces a decade ago, they’ve created five rewarding compact discs: GET READY FOR B E D (2002) ; BEDlam (2004); WATCH OUT! (2006); B E D Four + 1 (2008); YES, INDEED! (2010) — all available on the Blue Swing Fine Recordings label.*

When they began to delight listeners a decade ago, their stated goal was “to swing and have fun.”  This hasn’t changed.  In fact, they’ve gotten better — offering lively, joyous music that you don’t have to be a “jazz fan” to enjoy.

I hear them in my dreams.

For bookings please contact Michael Francis: (575) 653-4603 or (575) 937-6304.  His email is: mfjazz@pvtnetworks.net — or find him at www.mfjazz.com

My only problem in writing this celebratory post is a philosophical one.  Should we be wishing the RK4 a Happy Birthday or a Happy Anniversary?  Readers are invited to write in with suggestions — but, better yet, pick a date for your next celebration and make sure that the RK4 is there, too.

*About those discs.  Each one is a treat . . . but that’s no surprise.  I always think the best way to buy one is to find the RK4 on a gig and get the discs direct, but I realize that isn’t always possible. The most recent one, YES, INDEED! is available here (that’s CDBaby).  For the others, you could go to the source — www.rebeccakilgore.com or email the lady herself at   info@rebeccakilgore.  (Becky’s got info. Who could ask for anything more?)

May your happiness increase.

“PUT A SWING IN YOUR STEP” WITH CHRIS DAWSON and FRIENDS

Chris Dawson hasn’t received the attention his playing deserves, but his latest CD (for Blue Swing Fine Recordings) will fix that.  It’s superb. 

Need proof?

People who admire these musicians as I do won’t need any more prompting.  They can buy copies (note the plural) of the disc at www.blueswing.com.,  www.CDBaby.com., or email Chris personally at chrismartindawson@yahoo.com to purchase personally inscribed copies.  

Here’s some of what I wrote when I first heard the disc:

When a European jazz researcher asked Eddie Durham what he thought of Edmond Hall, Durham said it all in one sentence, “Edmond Hall didn’t know how not to swing!” Those words popped into my head as soon as this disc began to play, because for Chris and his friends inspired jazz improvisation is second nature.

Mind you, I don’t pretend to have cool objectivity.  I first heard Chris as part of the ensemble on a handful of sessions about twenty years ago (with Rebecca Kilgore, Marty Grosz, and Hal Smith) and he leaped out from the speakers although he wasn’t playing any louder than anyone else.  It was the absolute rightness of what he played: time, feeling, harmonic subtlety – an art that didn’t call attention to itself and thus was instantly compelling. Although I heard echoes of Nat Cole, Hank Jones, and Mel Powell, Chris was complete in himself, and his playing was more than a collection of memorized gestures.

It might seem melodramatic for me to write that I spent the next two decades waiting for this CD, but it it’s the truth.  I was delighted to hear Chris’s solo Christmas CD in 2009, and thrilled to see clips from these sessions appearing on YouTube.  Now, the evidence is here to share and treasure!

I doubt that these five players immersed themselves in Golden Era science fiction, but it would explain a great deal, for they are time-travelers who don’t need gleaming machines.  Chris and his gang have reached the kind of musical flexibility and maturity where all swinging jazz is equal and equally worth cherishing: James P. Johnson and Bud Powell live in the same building and chat happily in the elevator.  Listen to PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, where Chris melds the earthy yet delicate swing I’d associate with a 1938 Vocalion with the harmonic inventiveness and sense of space that characterized “Mainstream” several decades later.  It isn’t artificial: I never feel that he is thinking, “Now I’ll throw in an Augmented Nineteenth chord in the right hand (from Hindemith) over my Official Stride Pattern (Don Lambert) in the left”; it’s genuine and internal, in the manner of such stylistic investigators as Ruby Braff and Dave McKenna.

And although music has the power to make us reflect deeply on the great sadnesses we all face, this session is resoundingly happy – it echoes the reassuring pace of the steady heartbeat.  Even the lovely ballads on this disc aren’t hopelessly gloomy: while their sounds chronicle shattered dreams (as on OH, YOU CRAZY MOON), we admire the beautiful sounds.

Chris’s gang has a cohesive energy that could rearrange the landscape.  Listen to the pulse of that rhythm section, the way the players work together to the common goal.  And there’s the pure sound of Hal’s Sid Catlett- inspired brushes and rimshots, of Denny’s impassioned strum (he loves Allan Reuss and Steve Jordan), of Christoph’s woody, speaking bass, reminiscent of Ray Brown. Each of the members of this rhythm section could propel a big band on their own (hear Denny’s introduction to SAILBOAT); together, they are a living display of joyous synergy.  And with Dan Barrett on the date, no other horns need apply. To me, he is a jazz Midas, casually making everything golden.  (Dan is responsible for the nifty little riff that the band uses to send Christoph on his merry way on SWEETIE.)

Chris said to me, “I felt really fortunate and lucky to have this band. Each guy was my number one pick, so this was my dream team.  I’ve been playing with Christoph for about twenty years.  We met at USC, while he was working on his Masters and I was doing my undergraduate work.  He’s a very serious, dedicated musician, an inspiring player to know and work with.  I’ve known Dan for almost that long while playing gigs together in the local Los Angeles jazz scene.  I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I respect his musicianship immensely!  I learn new things about music and what it means to be a professional player whenever we talk.  I met Hal while on an Evan Christopher gig around 1992.  I wouldn’t have done this project without him and I’m so happy I got him before he moved to San Antonio to work with Jim Cullum.  I was wondering which guitar player would suit us best, and Dan recommended Denny.  He was new to me, but I trust Dan 100% and it worked out great.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Although Chris doesn’t dramatically demand the spotlight, I find myself listening to a performance over and over, savoring at how Chris’s left hand knows what his right hand is doing, and vice versa.  And he’s my model of an ensemble pianist – how does he pick just the right notes?  Hear him support, cheer, and encourage everyone throughout this disc!

And the wonderful little charts – just right – are also from the noble hand of Mr. Dawson.  Chris told me, “One thing I hope that separates this project from others is those arrangements.  It isn’t a jam session, thrown together in the studio, but it’s a little more thought out.  For example, there’s the recurring introduction, interlude, and ending on THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME, as well as the unison intro and ending on ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Also I like to use key changes for variety – ALL I DO modulates from F to C; WE’LL MEET AGAIN goes from Bb to C and ends up in Eb; RITZ bounces back and forth between C minor and G minor before ending in C minor.  I love the way the Benny Goodman Trio did this kind of thing.”

Chris is not only a satisfying small-group arranger but a splendidly masterful pianist.  Admire his unerring gently propulsive pulse; his steady time; the ringing sound he gets out of the instrument; his chord voicings.  And what delights he can create in a small space: his four-bar introductions are gems.  MY IDEAL is a graduate course (for those who can hear) in how to make melody come alive, how to convey tenderness while keeping the rhythm going.  And his HANDFUL OF KEYS honors Fats – in ways both accurate and jubilant – adding his own touches to this great display of playful athleticism.

For once, the title of this CD is accurate, musical truth in advertising: this music will uplift you on your daily rounds in a way that no costly set of orthotics could. And the glowing, generous sounds and textures here will resound in your ears long after the disc has concluded. Denny told me, “Quite honestly, playing time with Hal and Christoph was like breathing air – so natural and so effortless. A real pleasure indeed – they did the work and all I needed to do was open my ears.” 

Pleasures untold greet those who listen!

And a little coda:

Chris is an original, not a copyist.  He isn’t a museum piece but a creative improviser . . . !  And what he does is irreplaceable.

YES, INDEED!*

A new CD by the group formerly known as B E D is cause for celebration.  Although this quartet (by common consent) has shed its coy acronym to be known simply as the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, their musical essence — swinging, tender, witty, surprising — has not changed except to get better. 

Rebecca’s Quartet is a musical alliance between Becky (vocals and guitar); Eddie Erickson (the same plus banjo), Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, piano, arrangements, vocals) and Joel Forbes (string bass).  They were friends and co-conspirators long before they formed this versatile group, and their pleasure in playing and singing continues to grow, audibly.  And I stress that the RK4 is a musically interconnected group rather than a star turn for a singer and her backing rhythm section. 

This CD is also happily distinguished by its variety (most CDs seem too long not because we can’t sit still for sixty-five minutes, but because many groups present the same experience eleven or twenty times during the course of the disc) — and it’s not an artificial yearning for “something completely different” from track to track.  Singers Becky and Eddie are often out front, as they deserve to be, but the music behind and around them is both delicate and propulsive.  Much of that is due to bassist Joel, someone I’ve been privileged to see and hear at close range at The Ear Inn.  Joel knows all about the right notes in the right places, and his big woody sound lifts any ensemble.  Here — since there’s piano only on one track and no drums at all, we can hear his righteous elegance.  He’s featured throughout the CD but comes to the forefront on MY OLD FLAME, which is just lovely.

Daniel P. Barrett, to be formal, inhabits a roomy musical universe.  Shall we begin with the talents he’s less celebrated for?  His piano on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE would make you think that Nat Cole had decided to remain an instrumentalist, and his cornet playing on A GAL IN CALICO and GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF is a flexible, swinging delight — evoking Bobby Hackett and Bill Coleman.  Want more?  He’s an impish singer on ACQUAINTED: it’s hard to hear him sing anything without grinning at his wryly personal delivery.  The clever, understated arrangements are his, and his trombone playing is what the instrument ought to sound like, whether he’s caressing a ballad line or nodding to one of Vic Dickenson’s less printable epigrams.

Eddie Erickson hasn’t yet gotten his due as a wonderful rhythm guitarist and creator of tumbling single-note lines where every note is perfectly in place, even when the tempo is supersonic.  His banjo playing is so melifluous that it makes me forget all the other things done to and with that instrument in the wrong hands.  As a singer . . . he is earnest without being homespun, someone who makes the lyrics come alive without the slightest hint of affectation.  He makes the rather violent lyrics of A GAL IN CALICO charming rather than oppressive; his MY OLD FLAME is rueful but wise; his DAY DREAM is tenderly masterful.  He is also a wonderful team player, having the time of his life joining in with Becky when they sing.

And “Rebecca (Becky) Kilgore,” as the back cover identifies her?  My feeling (based on this CD and her Jerome Kern tribute, SURE THING, just out on Audiophile) is that her only flaw is that she keeps getting better.  When I have received a new CD of hers, I think I know how good it’s going to be, but her subtlety continues to amaze me.  She is able to sing songs that I know by heart and make them evocative and fresh — including THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME and THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT, which I had thought Mr. Astaire had permanently made his own.  Her wistfulness, her deep feeling are evident all through I WISH I KNEW; her multi-lingual effortlessness comes through on UNDER PARIS SKIES.  Her delivery of the lyrics is of course pitch-perfect, conversationally casual and graceful, but she is a great dramatic actress who never is caught acting: her rubatos, her hesitations and urgencies, are emotionally convincing improvisatons.  And she doesn’t demand the spotlight for herself: her singing makes acceptable songs sound much better than they would otherwise, and makes great songs astonishing.  On this CD, as well, our Becky displays another side to her character, a wholly natural kind of bluesy Funk: hear her on BUZZ ME BLUES and the half-time section (homage to Connee Boswell and the Sisters) of CHANGES MADE.  And the whole band rocks church on the opening YES, INDEED! — an appropriate title for this delightful disc. 

Here’s a link to CD Baby to purchase the Blue Swing Fine Recordings CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/RebeccaKilgoreQuartet

*This post’s title, of course, comes from the CD itself and its opening track: I wanted to call this YOU WILL SHOUT WHEN IT HITS YOU, but my legal advisers said that these words sounded like an incitement to civil unrest so that I should find another phrase.  And the cover picture, most atmospheric, captures Dan’s mother Dorothee striding down a busy street in St. Louis, circa 1937 — she kows where she’s going and she’s going to get there . . . just like the RK4.

JIM GOODWIN, HOT MAN

The much-loved jazzman Jim Goodwin died this year just shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about his talents, but what struck me when I first heard him on record was his surpassing heat, a pushing intensity that drove the musicians around him.  Red Allen had it, as did Roy Eldridge.  Think of Louis on HOTTER THAN THAT, or the closing choruses of I NEVER KNEW by the Chocolate Dandies, or Joe Sullivan in his prime. 

Jim always played — no matter what the context or the tempo — as if his life depended on it.  Not necessarily loud or high, not necessarily spattering the listener with fancy runs, but taking chances, never coasting.  Even when he playing the opening chorus of something like PLEASE BE KIND, you knew that the request wasn’t an idle one: he meant business!

Many of Jim’s vinyl recordings haven’t yet made it to compact disc, and there are private sessions treasured by those who have heard them.  But he and his friend Dave Frishberg made DOUBLE PLAY, an enlivening duet session for Arbors Records (they were both passionate baseball aficionados).  [As I write this, the CD and cassette versions are available at the Arbors site for reduced prices. ]

And, more recently, the Blue Swing label has issued two sets featuring an incendiary little band, the Sunset Music Company, recorded live in Europe, under the leadership of banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein, and featuring Jim alongside such notables as Dan Barrett, John Smith, Bill Carter, Mike Fay, and Jeff Hamilton.  Think of a cross between Fats Waller and his Rhythm circa 1935 and the Rhythmakers, and you’ve got the collective ambiance of these rewarding concert recordings.

Finally, Jim’s dear friend and musical colleague Retta Christie (whose singing is full of feeling and swing) has created a website to honor Jim — content and photographs provided by his friends, so it has a delightful, often hilarious candor not always found on the web.  And — there are audio clips for those for whom Jim was just a legendary name.   

Instead of reading the grim headlines in the newspaper or cyber-shopping, look and listen here.  I assure you that the experience will be uplifting.  And Hot.  http://jamesrgoodwin.com/

CD OF THE MONTH: “BED: FOUR + 1”

This new CD by B E D (that’s Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Dan Barrett — joined by Joel Forbes and Jeff Hamilton) is a wonder.  But since aesthetic criticism should have more substance than that, I must tell you about the late Howard Siegman, who was my professor of Dramatic Literature in the days when we wrote our essays on typewriters and went to the card catalogue to look up information in books.  Professor Siegman began the Drama Appreciation course by teaching us the three principles of criticism — precepts we had to master before we could be allowed to visit the college theatre.  “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it” were both punishable by serious frowning and lowered grades.

The precepts were:

1. What is the artist attempting to do?

2.   How well has he or she succeeded at doing it?

3.   Was it worth doing in the first place?

Applying these precepts to the new BED CD (Blue Swing Fine Recordings BSR 008) I came up with these answers after much listening and serious study.

1.   The stated purpose of BED is “To swing and have fun.”  This translates into beautiful rhythmic singing and playing, full of subtle improvisation — with joy being the prevailing emotion, even on the ballads.  The group is a living example of jazz empathy: the rocking backgrounds to the singing of the three participants, the delicious instrumental solos and jamming, the peerless support of Joel’s bass and Jeff’s drums.  In addition, Dan shifts from trombone to cornet to piano, and the repertoire is wonderfully varied.  This is one of the few CDs in recent memory that I listened to in one sitting.

2.   See # 1.  And: I think this group has gotten better and better on each of its CDs.  In addition, the recorded sound (courtesy of the fine trumpeter and recording engineer Bryan Shaw) is faultless.  And the repertoire: a groovy “Hucklebuck,” a deeply felt “East of the Sun,” a down-home “Seven Lonely Days,” a romping instrumental version of “Midnight in Moscow.”  The group also takes chances that come off in high style.  The first gamble is in performing James P. Johnson’s pretty “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart,” most memorably recorded in 1949 by Louis and Billie — a tough act to follow.  Becky and Dan do a fairly close version of that record without adopting the surface mannerisms of either singer, and it works — against anyone’s expectations.  A 1937 Tommy Dorsey-style “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” with the men of the chorus offering witty rejoinders to Becky’s reading of the melody, is nearly as much fun.    And Jeff Hamilton drives this combo along perfectly: the sound of his silvery cymbals is music to exult by.  Eddie’s “Jubilee” is suitably groovy; Becky has uncovered the verse to “You’re A Lucky Guy,” and these days, doesn’t everyone need to be reminded that “The Best Things in Life Are Free”?

3.   There are two possible answers here: a) “See # 1 and # 2.  b) “Hell, yes!”

This is an extraordinarily fine session — playful, soulful, hot, and subtle.  The songs are: I’ve Heard That Song Before / This Can’t Be Love / East of the Sun / Jubilee / Cheek to Cheek / Say It (Over and Over Again) / The Hucklebuck / You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart / Midnight in Moscow / You’re A Lucky Guy / Cross Your Heart / The Best Things in Life Are Free / Seven Lonely Days / Drum Boogie / I’ll See You In My Dreams //

It’s available through www.worldsrecords.com.  Don’t be the last one on your block!

P. S.  If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Worlds Records, you’re missing out on a great firm.  I’ve been buying CDs from them for years.  And if we want small indepent businesses to survive, we need to support them.