I know how hard improvising in public is, but I’ve been in situations where singularly gifted musicians are simply “doing their job” and we can all hear it. Perhaps it’s the last tune of an exhausting festival set; perhaps someone in the band had a marital argument earlier or has to use the facilities very shortly.
But there are performances and recordings joyous from the first notes. Not volume or speed: rather, a collective pleased exuberance. Here’s a fine one.
But I’m not surprised: after all, it’s the second CD by the wonderful DIME NOTES, made up of great players (and thinkers and feel-ers as well): Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet; Dave Kelbie, guitar; Louis Thomas, string bass. I was very pleased with their first effort, as you can read here — and when Andrew and David became the “Complete Morton Project,” every week brought a new YouTube video — jolts of pleasure at regular intervals.
Here’s a sample — Jimmie Noone’s EL RADO SCUFFLE:
Several things make this CD more than special. The repertoire is a lovely mix of classics and less-played tunes from the early jazz years: EL RADO SCUFFLE / THE CHANT / DAYLIGHT SAVIN’ BLUES / THE DREAM / GRANDPA’S SPELLS / FICKLE FAY CREEP / PEP / WORRIED AND LONESOME BLUES / TEN CENT RHYTHM (an original by Andrew) / WHY / JUBILEE STOMP / SAN // Of course there’s Mister Jelly, but also side-glances at James P. Johnson and others.
But I can hear some of you, those who grumble, “I have sixteen versions of SAN already. Why do I need this one?” — which has some validity. If you stop that grumbling, I will try to answer.
For one thing, that approach reminds me of the dusty joke, “Would you like a book for your birthday?” “No thanks, I already have a book.” The whole spirit of the music we love is in its ability to make the familiar fresh and gleaming. How many recordings do any of us have of slow twelve-bar blues? But we hope for more excitement, more “personality” to come from what we already know in its broad outlines. It’s especially true with THE DIME NOTES, who are a working band: they know the venerable recordings by heart; they have immersed themselves in the little details of those Gennetts and Vocalions. And they don’t strive to be “innovative” or “harmonically adventurous” in ways that would put a fez on the Mona Lisa. But each track on this CD has its own vivacious energy, as if someone had switched on an internal light. I hear things in these songs that I don’t expect to hear, and there is no museum-dust, no scent of antiquity. And because this is a working band, there is a special, charming unity: the way people who have been together for some time laugh at each other’s jokes, anticipate each other’s acts — in general, “play well with others.”
There’s a secret ingredient: that is, a large awareness that each of the four masterful players has, and it permeates the group. Leaving aside Andrew’s original, even though the newest song on this CD was composed more than eighty years ago, the music didn’t freeze in 1926. At the risk of offending those who like their jazz “pure,” whatever in the name of Eli Oberstein that means, this band knows how to play Twenties jazz with a buoyant swing feeling that perhaps Mel Stitzel was unaware of or not willing to attempt. I don’t mean genre-bending “Dixieland goes Modern,” but I do hear a joyous bounce throughout this session, and it makes the older material seem so shiny.
And that, dear comrades in jazz, is why this CD is memorable and will remain so through multiple playings.
May your happiness increase!