Tag Archives: D’Vonne Lewis

THREE BEAUTIES by JACOB ZIMMERMAN AND HIS PALS (LIVE!): FEATURING RAY SKJELBRED, MATT WEINER, D’VONNE LEWIS, COLE SCHUSTER, CHRISTIAN PINCOCK (KNKX Public Radio, January 3, 2019)

Illustration by Jesse Rimler

Last August, I did handsprings (a figure of speech) about the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals, MORE OF THAT; you can read my joyous words here.  The CD impressed me so that I did something — in complete seriousness — that I’ve never done in ten years of blogging, that is, I told readers that if they bought the CD and disliked it, I would buy it back from them and give them their money back.  I was and remain so convinced, and no one has contacted the JAZZ LIVES Customer Service Department.

For this intimate swing session — TV on the radio, perhaps? — Jacob plays alto and clarinet, aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone and valve-trombone.

To quote the Blessed Eddie Condon, “Too good to ignore.”  And Count Basie called the station to say only, “Yes.”

Thanks to KNKX Public Radio for this swing session, and especially for these three videos, which they offered to us on January 24.  And thanks some more!

SONG OF THE ISLANDS:

RADIATOR, in tribute to the eminent Mr. Skjelbred, poet and poet of the piano, based on his hero’s PIANO MAN — that would be Earl Hines — which was itself based on SHINE:

SCULPT-A-SPHERE, harmonically built on NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, Jacob’s fanciful idea of a collaboration between Monk and Pres:

This is glorious music — “Old Time Modern,” you might call it.  And if it needs explication, you might want to visit an ENT professional (first checking that she is an approved network provider.)  I also think that you might well want to investigate Jacob’s new CD here.  It’s pressed (if that archaic verb still applies) in an edition of 400; the price is $15, and the your-money-back offer still applies.

May your happiness increase!

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SPLENDIDLY GENUINE: “MORE OF THAT,” JACOB ZIMMERMAN and his PALS

This is not really a post about shopping, but since shopping is one of the experiences held in common by so many of us, it works as metaphor.  A dozen years ago, if I thought I needed a new shirt, I would have headed to The Mall, where I could gaze at two dozen machine-made shirts, identical except for size and perhaps color.  The plenitude was a reassuring reminder that we live in the Land of Too Much, and often I bought more than I needed.

As my clothing style became more personal, the racks of identical product no longer charmed.  I began to go thrift-shopping for the quest for unique pleasures.  Surprise was the rule, even among the inexplicable proliferation of plaid shirts (why?). I would spot something thirty shirts away, move towards it as if magnetized, and might have a small breath-taking experience.  “That’s for me!  I could wear that!  That looks like it belongs to me!”

Illustration by Jesse Rimler

Such impassioned bonding happens with music also: I was two minutes into the first track of a new CD — its cover above — and my mental soundtrack alternated between, “Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful!” and the more defensive, “You’re not getting this CD away from me.”  And then,addressing the invisible JAZZ LIVES audience, “You need to hear this,” I thought.

“This” is the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals called MORE OF  THAT, and to use my own catchphrase, it has increased my happiness tremendously.

The cover drawing, which I love, by Jesse Rimler, says much about the cheerful light-heartedness of the enterprise.  Why has this twenty-first century Nipper got his head in a protective cone?  Has he been biting himself?  Is the cone a visual joke about the morning-glory horn?  Is this the canine version of cupping a hand behind your ear to hear your singing better?  All I know is that this dog is reverently attentive.  You’ll understand why.

Here is Jacob’s website, and you can read about his musical associations here.

I had heard Jacob’s name bandied about most admiringly a few years ago; he appeared in front of me in the Soho murk of The Ear Inn and was splendidly gracious.  He’d also received the equivalent of the Legion of Honor: he was gigging with Ray Skjelbred.  But even these brightly-colored bits of praise did not prepare me for how good this CD is.

The overall ambiance is deep Minton’s 1941, Keynote, and Savoy Records sessions, that wonderful period of music where “swing” and “bop” cuddled together, swinging but not harmonically or rhythmically constrained.  And although Jacob and Pals have the recorded evidence firmly in their ears and hearts, and under their fingers as well, this is not Cryogenic Jazz or Swing Taxidermy (with apologies to Nipper’s grandchild on the cover).

As a leader, Jacob is wonderfully imaginative without being self-consciously clever (“Didja hear what the band did there?  Didja?”)  Each performance has a nifty arrangement that enhances the song rather than drawing attention from it — you could start with the title tune, MORE OF THAT, which Jacob told me is based on MACK THE KNIFE, “MORITAT,” so you’ll get the joke — which begins from elements so simple, almost monochromatic, and then builds.  Each arrangement makes full use of dynamics (many passages on this CD are soft — what a thing!), there’s some dark Ellingtonia and some rocking neo-Basie.  And each song is full of delightful sensations: when I get through listening to BALLIN’ THE JACK (a song often unintentionally brutalized) I think, “That’s under three minutes? How fulfilling.”  So the Pals are a friendly egalitarian organization with everyone getting chances to shine.

A few words about the compositions.  SIR CHARLES is Ray’s homage to our hero Sir Charles Thompson; Jacob says RADIATOR “was composed as a feature for Ray and was inspired by the Earl Hines record “Piano Man.” It’s based on “Shine.”  SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY “is a feature for bassist Matt Weiner and pays homage to the record of that tune by Lester Young and Slam Stewart.”  “FIRST THURSDAY is based on”Sunday.” My monthly gig at the jazz club “Egan’s Ballard Jam House” has happened every first Thursday for over 5 years.” And SCULPT-A-SPHERE “is based on “Nice Work If You Can Get It”…I tried to imagine what it would be like if Thelonious Monk and Lester Young wrote a tune together.”

Before I get deeper into the whirlpool of praise, some data.  Jacob plays alto and clarinet (more about that in a minute), aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone; Meredith Axelrod brings voice and guitar to the final track.  And the compositions: RADIATOR / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / FIRST THURSDAY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS / BLUE GUAIAC BLUES / BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES / IN A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN / MORE OF THAT / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / SCULPT-A-SPHERE / I AIN’T GOT NOBODY.  All immensely tasty, none crowding its neighbor.

This being the twenty-first century, many saxophonists live in a post-Parker era, which works for some. But Jacob has deeply understood that there are other sounds one can draw upon while playing that bent metal tube: a mix of Pete Brown (without the over-emphatic pulse), Hilton Jefferson (rhapsodic but tempered), and Lee Konitz (dry but not puckering the palate).  On clarinet, he suggests Barney Bigard but with none of the Master’s reproducible swoops and dives: all pleasing to the ear.

Because I have strongly defined tastes, I often listen to music with an editor’s ear, “Well, they’re dragging a little there.”  “I would have picked a brighter tempo.”  “Why only one chorus?” and other mind-debris that may be a waste of energy.  I don’t do that with MORE OF THAT, and (imagine a drumroll and cymbal crash) I love this CD so fervently that I will launch the JAZZ LIVES GUARANTEE.  Buy the disc.  Keep the jiffybag it came in.  Play it twice.  If you’re not swept away, write to me at swingyoucats@gmail.com, send me the CD and I’ll refund your money and postage.  I don’t think I will be reeling from a tsunami of mail, and should some people (inexplicably) not warm to this disc, I’ll have extra copies to give away.

You heard it here first.

May your happiness increase!

The CASEY MacGILL ORCHESTRA, “THE ROYCROFT SESSION”

You’re going to have to trust me on this — that Casey MacGill’s new five-song CD, pictured below, is excellent and beyond — because I can’t offer you sound samples or downloads.  You’ll have to (gasps from the audience) buy the CD.  It’s $15 and it’s splendidly worth it.  Details here.  The other necessary bit of candor is that it a an EP-CD . . . or whatever they call it nowadays, twenty minutes long.  Take it as the best compliment I can offer that when I first got a copy, I began to audition it in the Mobile Audition Studio (my 2014 Camry) and I played it three times through without stopping, and thought, “That’s more pleasure than many standard-length CDs.”

“A swing band, yes, but what makes this special is the combination of great arrangements, vocals, and its irresistible rhythmic pulse. Flavor, tonal colors, musical storytelling; two brilliant originals and three classics that are must-hear,” is the description on Casey’s website, and it’s an accurate one.  The band recorded on January 8, 2018 — in beautiful sound and no trickery.

Here are the players — and some of them you will not only recognize but greet as masters on their instruments.  Casey plays piano, ukulele, sings lead, and does the arrangements.  The reeds are Jacob Zimmerman, lead alto, clarinet, vocal; Saul Cline, tenor, clarinet; Hans Teuber, alto, clarinet; Jonathan Doyle, tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass sax.  The brass: Charlie Porter, lead trumpet; Dan Barrett, trumpet; Trevor Whitridge, trombone; David Loomis, trombone; Christian Pincock, trombone.  Rhythm: D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar.

And they rock.

About the music.  Casey understands and embodies several truths in his music — in theory and performance.  One is that if the music isn’t fun, why do it?  (This doesn’t mean jokes, but a certain lively ebullience.  Joy.)  Two is that there is no artificial division between “jazz” and “swing,” that the former ought to get the dancers on the floor, but that the latter has to be ornamented with high-level inspiring improvisations.  Three is that simplicity is commendable rather than a weakness, and that music can fall down under the weight of too much of anything, so that well-played riffs can be a great pleasure, even if we know them by heart.

The disc starts with SWING NATION (its refrain “People groovin’ together!” a philosophical foundation for everything Casey and friends do) with a duo vocal by Casey and Jacob Zimmerman — I thought I heard a little Trummy Young and Sy Oliver in there, and that’s a compliment.  It’s a short performance, but a memorable one: I was humming it in the days that passed after my first listenings.  I was rocking in my driver’s seat before the song was a minute old. Great solo segments by Doyle (on bass sax!), Barrett, Lewis, Loomis, Casey on piano, all deserved multiple hearings on their own.  The arrangement is full of little surprises, but none of them seem obtrusive, and the rhythm section is superb: Casey, switching from piano to ukulele, is a splendid anchor and guide. His piano playing is Basie-like but without any of the half-dozen (by now tedious) Basie “trademarks.”

I NEVER KNEW is often taken too fast, but not here, and the arrangement looks to the 1933 Benny Carter recording, with a sweet discussion between Zimmerman and Cline at the start, before Barrett does what he does so superbly, the second sixteen over to Casey at the piano.  Then — “What is that?” — a transcription of Lester’s 1943 solo for sax section, glossy and supple, again with a piano bridge by Casey leading into a muted brass rendering of the closing Carter chorus, Barrett backed by Lewis’ tom-toms for the bridge.  So far (and I left a phone message with my primary care physician) I have been unable to listen to this track only once.

LA DAME EN BLUES, another MacGill original, is what they used to call a “mood piece.”  Its groove reminds me a little of THE MOOCHE, with a much more harmonically sophisticated second half, that turns into a melancholy yet swinging clarinet solo.  Again, the ensemble writing is compelling without grabbing the listener’s collar.  Loomis summons up Joe Nanton, gruff but tender, before piano leads the band out.

The opening of NIGHT AND DAY — muted brass against and with reeds — makes me wish I had practiced more during those ballroom dancing lessons of 2007.  I delight in the band’s lovely sound: everyone knows how to play as part of a section, which is a great thing.  Casey’s vocal is hip but completely sincere: he doesn’t ooze, but he’s deeply in the pocket of Romance, with an easy conversational lilt to his phrasing.  A gorgeous solo chorus by Teuber (who makes me think of Pete Brown and Rudy Williams, sweet-tart) follows, before Casey returns to woo the unknown hearer and us.

Finally, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which has been done so often that it might labor under the burden of familiarity, starts off with a bang — a short vocal introduction before the band says, “HERE we are!” in the opening chorus.  Casey’s vocal, hip and hilarious, is so winning, before Teuber comes on, and that’s no idle 1946 cliche.  Barrett, for the second sixteen, visits NOLA, before the band starts to rock what I think of as “the Henderson riff” or perhaps it’s the Hopkins one — buy the CD and argue among yourselves.  Another riff is overlaid, which I love but cannot place, before Casey does a Johnny Guarneri for the bridge, and the band mixes unison scat — college cheerleaders? — while thinking of Christopher Columbus, before bringing on a Django-and Stephane riff.

Perfectly swinging music, ensemble, solos, vocal: it’s a delight.  I thought, when I’d finished writing this overview, “Hey, the only thing wrong with this disc is that it’s not a two-CD set!” but perhaps that’s best.  Maybe Casey has a firm hand on the tiller and is looking out for us all.  Given two hours of this band, I might be so overwhelmed by pleasure that I couldn’t write.

Buy yours here.  Bliss has rarely been so easy to come by.

May your happiness increase!