Tag Archives: Budapest Quartet

MEET THE ROYAL GARDEN TRIO

The Royal Garden Trio's new CD (2010)

I have to come out with it: the seventy-five minute span of a compact disc is often too much for me.  So when I loaded the first of three discs by the Royal Garden Trio into the car player, I expected the outcome to be the same: restlessness halfway through.  No, the Beloved and I (she’s a stern critic herself) played the three discs nonstop during a six-hour drive.

They’re that good.

On these CDs, the RGT is made up of Mike Karoub (cello and string bass); Tom Bogardus (tenor guitar and clarinet), Brian Delaney (acoustic and electric 6-string guitars).  And they have eminent guest stars: Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); James Dapogny (piano); Bess Bonnier (piano, heard on JITTERBUG WALTZ below); Chris Smith (sousaphone), Louis Caponecchia (ukulele / vocal); Jo Serrapere, Paul King, Melissa Brady (vocals); Gian Paulo (string bass), Rod McDonald (guitar), Donn Deniston (drums). 

What makes the Royal Garden Trio so delightful is their own restrained eloquence.  The world is full of enthusiastic Hot Club spinoffs — very capable musicians, inspired by Django and Stephane.  But often the result is “note for note,” which is amazing technically but less so aesthetically, or an overabundance . . . many notes, many choruses, fast tempos, dalling string virtuosity.  One part of the brain admires; the other portion asks (in Lester Young’s words) to be told a story. 

The members of the RGT have beautiful stories to tell.  They are virtuosic as well, but they know that too much is not a good thing.  So their solos are thoughtful speech, not diatribes; their notes ring and resound in the air.  Each player creates compelling melodies, and they work together like a swing version of the Budapest Quartet. 

Since I often find the heirs to Grappelli are given to excessive sweetness and high drama, I am thrilled by Karoub’s cello: earnest, dark yet lithe.  Mike’s conception is never overblown, but his solos can be majestic.  Delaney’s guitar is part Lang, part Lonnie Johnson.  Bogardus romps on his guitar and his clarinet playing is easy, fervent, balancing Dodds and klezmer.  And the trio works together to create something beautiful, varied, and cheering.  Their performances are marvelous vignettes, the guitarists switching lead and rhythm, Bogardus playing a chorus on clarinet; Karoub bowing and then plucking in a propulsive manner (across bar lines) that recalls Steve Brown.

And they swing — without even trying hard. 

Although much of the repertoire is familiar, the trio’s approach lifts it up: I never found myself saying, “Oh, another ST. LOUIS BLUES,” but was excited by what this band can do.  And the CDs offer some less-played material as well: Ellington’s SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (for the home-improvement minded among us, but this time with the verse), THERE’LL COME A TIME, RAGGIN’ THE SCALE, I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES, GO INTO YOUR DANCE, a hidden track of APRIL KISSES, and some winding originals that sound like theme music for mid-Thirties screwball comedy films.

The RGT's debut CD, 2002

But you can hear and see the Trio for yourself courtesy of YouTube:   

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (which Mike Karoub informs me was Moe Howard’s favorite song, a valuable fact):

JITTERBUG WALTZ (with the legendary Bess Bonnier on piano):

The RGT's second CD, 2005

To find out more, visit the Trio’s website: http://www.theroyalgardentrio.com/sched.html.  And if you feel moved to purchase all three discs (I recommend this) ask for the JAZZ LIVES discount.  These players (and their nimble friends) will bring joy, in or out of the car.

SWING OUT WITH PAYPAL!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS:

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DAN BLOCK’S VIVID IMAGINATIONS

Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader.  A new CD captures his many imaginations whole.  The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE. 

Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic.  Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own.  Dan Block’s way is his own.  No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions.   Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG.  (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.)  The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE. 

Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer.  And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity.  Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive.  So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”

Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano.  The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.”  Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.     

I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams.  The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized.  The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly. 

Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES.  Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same. 

Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs.  Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky. 

The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out.  One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello. 

Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano.  Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next. 

But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass.  Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance.  (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.)  This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it. 

But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings.  The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.”  And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.     

The disc costs $20.  To order yours, email its creator at BlockDan@aol.com.