Tag Archives: Braff-Barnes Quartet

“STUFFY,” NOT STUFFY: HOWARD ALDEN, DAN BARRETT, HARRY ALLEN, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI (Sept. 11, 2015)

Guitarist Howard Alden and trombonist / cornetist Dan Barrett were Southern California buddies and musical colleagues when neither one of them had a driver’s license (they show up on record — with the esteemed Bryan Shaw) first in 1981.  But a few years later, when they were both New Yorkers, they created a quintet with an unusual instrumentation — guitar, string bass, drums, alto doubling clarinet, trombone doubling cornet — that initially had a book of arrangements including many written especially for them by Buck Clayton. In 1986, this recording was the result:

ABQ

Like many other splendid small groups of that time (Soprano Summit and the Braff-Barnes Quartet) they didn’t stay together steadily, but assembled for reunions.  One of their champions, the late Joe Boughton, always made sure that they played at his jazz parties, and I first heard them in person at Jazz at Chautauqua in 2004.  Happily, they’ve continued to appear — with a sub or two — at the Allegheny Jazz Party and they will be a highlight of the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.

Here are Howard and Dan with Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Frank Tate (an original member), string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums, having a good time with the 1945 Coleman Hawkins line, STUFFY:

I know I’ll see them at this year’s Cleveland Classic: I hope you will, too.

May your happiness increase!

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!

THE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LOWER STOCKTON STREET: PROFESSORS GROSZ, OAKLEY, and VENTRESCO (August 17, 2014: Part One)

A long time ago, when I was a college student listening to string trios, quartets, and quintets, I was told that the great groups were Thibaud-Cortot-Casals, the Budapest Quartet and Friends, the Guarneri Quartet (whom I saw several times in concert). But while I was learning my Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak, and others, I was getting deeper into small-group jazz.  And it occurred to me often that the inspired interplay I heard in the “Trout” or the “American” was no different from a record of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett boogieing their way through a blues, or the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet, the Goodman Trio, Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the Basie rhythm section.  And in person I saw Soprano Summit, Al and Zoot, Bobby and Vic, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, the EarRegulars, and many others.
All this is long prelude to say that inspiring chamber music takes many forms. In jazz, it is always incredibly uplifting to see a very small group of musicians do two or three things at once — create communal variations out of their shared knowledge and conventions AND go their own brave ways. Courage, joy, playfulness, and beauty.
Here is some very recent evidence that stirring chamber-jazz sessions are happening all around us, with some of the finest players.  This one brought together East and West — East being Professor Grosz (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) and West being Professors Oakley and Ventresco from the San Francisco Bay Area.  No music stands, just swing and on-the-spot frolicking. Acoustic splendor, with two very different approaches to the guitar — in solo and accompaniment — and with Leon’s very heartfelt cornet shining a light for us all to follow. (Highlights from the 2014 Marty Grosz West Coast Tour, for the historians in the audience.)
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
SHOE SHINE BOY:
I’M CONFESSIN’:
JOE LOUIS STOMP:
CRAIG’s LOWDOWN BLUES:
Three more performances from the second half (after a quiet intermission) will be offered in the near future.
May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ AND HIS CELESTIAL BEINGS (ANDY SCHUMM, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOHN SHERIDAN, PETE SIERS): SEPTEMBER 21, 2013

Here are three informal pleasures from the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now reborn in a westerly direction as the Allegheny Jazz Party), created by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, asides; Andy Schumm, cornet, “secret weapon”; Scott Robinson, alto clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Sheridan, piano; Pete Siers, snare drum, wire brushes.  These performances come from September 21, 2013, but they evoke any number of small groups that flourished in the preceding century. And still flourish.

It’s delightful how much music can come from a small group with apparently “unorthordox” instrumentation: no third or fourth horn, no amplified guitar or string bass — no string bass at all — and a seriously minimalist drum kit. I think of other Grosz assemblages that have the same lilt, or the EarRegulars, or the Braff-Barnes quartet, some Basie small groups, skiffle extravaganzas, Josh Billings, blue-label Deccas, or any number of groups that one could find on Fifty-Second Street or in the decades that followed.

Here are three delights.

James P. Johnson’s perennial bit of yearning, ONE HOUR — recast as a living tribute to the Mound City Blue Blowers, eminently lyrical:

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, that jaunty 1936 love song, which always makes me think of Bing and Pee Wee:

And another expression of Swing Amour, ALL MY LIFE, also a new tune in 1936:

Marty calls this “music from a vanished era.” Or did he say “banished”?  Hard to tell, and either works in this context.  But as long as these players — and their descendants — walk the earth, such music has a good chance of surviving and enriching our lives and those of future generations. and Mister Grosz walks among us, still making those quarter notes swing: he is on the West Coast, among friends, as I write this.

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING TENDER: GEORGE and EVELYN BARNES by ALEXANDRA LEH

Like many jazz fans, I first heard the guitarist George Barnes on record. He had a swaggering attack and a powerfully recognizable sound, whether he was cutting through a big band record date or shaking up the group behind Louis Armstrong in 1956-7. In the early Seventies, I was able to see and hear him in person with Ruby Braff, George Duvivier, Dick Hyman, Jo Jones, Michael Moore, Wayne Wright — often in the brilliant Braff-Barnes Quartet.

Because Barnes had a way of attacking his notes that sounded like small swing firecrackers, I was utterly unprepared for the tender beauty of this performance. It is even more tender when you learn that it was something he played on the final day of his life. His daughter Alexandra has created this video tribute to her father, his music, and his beloved wife Evelyn — appropriately the music is ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE:

What beauty and what a tribute!

May your happiness increase!