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.
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!