Tag Archives: Ewan Bleach

THE CARESS OF MELODY: EWAN BLEACH’S NEW CD

Nat Hentoff remembered Bobby Hackett saying of Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?” I thought of this immediately upon hearing reed master Ewan Bleach’s new CD, which is all about the deepest arts of melody.

Here is the link to listen, download, and purchase (a few discs have been offered as well).

Here’s what Ewan and guitarist John Kelly do so well — what I’d call the resuscitation of song. SWEET LORRAINE has been played and sung so often that it can have a certain flatness, “Oh, that old thing!” — but here it is so sweet. Part of it comes from what Louis called “tonation and phrasing”: Ewan’s lovely affectionate tone, his thoughtful rubato approach to phrasing:

In this era of harmonic “sophistication” and “innovation,” abrupt rhythms, and more, the idea of lovingly playing the melody is so conservative as to be a radical act. But it didn’t bother Ben Webster, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, or a thousand other heroes — and it is a tradition that deserves to be honored. Ewan is both passionate and controlled (one can hear Bechet in his work, but a slimmed-down, less ego-driven Bechet), and he embodies Lester Young’s terse lyricism as well.

The songs chosen for this disc are well-known but the freshness with which the quartet approaches them brushes off any imagined dust: BODY AND SOUL / DEEP PURPLE / MEMORIES OF YOU / YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC (the source of the CD’s punning title) / PRELUDE TO A KISS / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / THE NEARNESS OF YOU. Those songs are all “ballads,” with no double-time assertions, but this CD is dreamy rather than soporific, and even the slowest rubato section has a discernible pulse. The performances come out of a loving respect for pure song — verses as well as choruses — where nothing is rushed, there are no special effects aside from the innate wisdom that marries instrument, player, notes, and emotion. Ewan, guitarist John Kelly (and Martin Wheatley on DEEP PURPLE), pianist Colin Good, and string bassist Jim Ydstie put themselves at the service of each song, considering it tenderly and sending its messages to us tenderly and solidly. I should also point out that Ewan honors the majestic Ancestors (Hawkins, Hodges, Carter, Chu) but doesn’t copy their recordings — he sounds like himself, which would get approving nods from the great Shades.

Here is the title song:

It’s a triumph of acoustic music and feeling: one of those CDs I have been returning to. Each improvisation reveals adult ease and patience: there is no irritable restlessness to get to “the next thing” in a hurry. The whole enterprise has an endearing absence of ego — the four musicians are sublime players, but they never seem to be saying, “Look at what I’m doing!” — rather, the consistent philosophy is “Share with me what this song has to offer us,” rare and precious. Some will consider this “old-fashioned” jazz, and it’s true if you measure art by the notion of each decade being an improvement on its predecessor, so Ewan leans more to Charlie Holmes than Charlie Parker, and the ambiance is definitely pre-Bird, but it is all a fond embodiment of music both subtle and deep. (And Bird had a deep melodic core.)

Take time away from the noise of current life — the noise we create inside us and the sounds coming from the street — to immerse yourself in these beauties. They are splendidly rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEING “MAD” IS PLEASURE (1924, 1938, and 2017)

Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.”  Please be prepared to take notes.

“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.

PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one.  Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable?  Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:

Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence.  However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:

There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?

While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks!  12 pounds!) to share with you.  A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.

Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:

and

and

I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience.  The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey.  This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here.  And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.

But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos.  Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling.  It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007).  As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.

And the sound is worth noting, with delight.  At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could.  But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years.  Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:

He’s got it, for sure.  And his recordings are wonderful.

Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:

And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle.  If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.

I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay.  A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture.  You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.

My advice?  If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast.  Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades.  If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.

The CD is obtainable from website: https://whitleybayjazzfest.com
email:wbjazzfest@btinternet.comFor more information, contact patti_durham1@btinternet.com.

And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD!  Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.

May your happiness increase!

“FUTURISTIC RHYTHMS: IMAGINING THE LATER BIX BEIDERBECKE,” by ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SINK-O-PATORS”

Even to the casual viewer, this CD, just out on Rivermont Records, is immediately enticing.  For one thing, and it cannot be undervalued, it has The Name on its cover — the dear boy from Iowa.  Catnip to many.  Then, Joe Busam’s lovely funny cover, perfectly evoking Jim Flora’s work — as well as presenting a band led by the splendid Andy Schumm.  It also (in that band name) has an inside joke for the cognoscenti, who turn hot and cold on request.  Some will delight in the concept, jazz time-travel, brought to us by the erudite Julio Schwarz Andrade, imagining what Bix would have played in a variety of contexts had he lived longer.  The conceit does nothing for me (I think the dead have the right to be left alone, not dressed up for Halloween) but I love the music, thrilling in its ease and subtlety.

Hearing Andy Schumm, cornet; Ewan Bleach, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums — now, that’s a rare pleasure.  You can see the song titles below, and the Musical Offering is neatly divided between a scattering of familiar tunes and some deeply lyrical ones that have become obscure.  (I hadn’t heard THINGS and OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY before, and WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE is memorable to me only because of a wondrous recording by Spike Mackintosh.)  The first ten songs were meant to be the official recording session, with the last two — hot “warm-up” performances added as a delightful bonus: we’re lucky the recording equipment was switched on.

Back to the music.  There are lovely little touches.  MOTEN SWING uses the riffs from the 1932 Victor recording, and the lyrical numbers still retain the slight bounce one would have heard in Thirties “rhythm ballads.”  Indeed, the whole session has the delightful motion of, perhaps, a Marty Grosz session from the end of the previous century.  This, of course, is helped along considerably by the wonderful Martin Wheatley — hear him on RAIN and elsewhere.  The CD also reminded me most happily of sessions by Marty and by Ruby Braff because of the cheering variety of approaches within each performance.  I offer the rubato Oliver-Schumm verse to  THE NEARNESS OF YOU as a heartening example, followed by a poignant Bleach tenor solo.  There’s none of the usual tedium that results from a surfeit of ensemble-solos-ensemble.  (I think of certain live sessions in the Seventies I attended where after the requisite single ensemble chorus, the clarinet always took the first solo.  Routine of this sort has a chilling effect.)

The members of the rhythm section, Messrs. Oliver, Wheatley, and Ball, add their own special bounce to the music.  I know Andrew Oliver these days as a Mortonist and have known Nick Ball as a scholar of pre-Swing drumming, but they aren’t antique in any way.  And the two Wheatleys, father and son, are a wonderful team: the right notes in the right places.  As fine as Andy and Ewan are, one could listen to any track on this disc solely to revel in, and learn from, this rhythm team.  As an example, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY.

Ewan Bleach is new to me and delightful: his work on either horn is floating and supple, and I never felt he was reaching for a particular phrase that someone had recorded eighty years ago.  His solos have their own lithe charm and his ensemble playing is the great work of an intuitive conversationalist who knows when to add a few notes and when to be still.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that I’d already admired his work with the Basin Street Brawlers.  I hope the reaction to this CD is such that Mr. Bleach gets a chance to record a horn-with-rhythm session of his own.

And Andy Schumm.  Yes.  I just heard him in person in my Wisconsin jaunt, and he hasn’t ceased to amaze and please, whether leaping in to his solo, playing a wistful coda, or lyrically purling his way through one of the rhythm ballads I’ve mentioned above.  To my ears — here comes another heresy — he isn’t Bix, nor is he the reincarnation of Bix.  He is Andy Schumm, and that’s a wonderful thing, with its own joyous surprises.

Buy it here.  I did.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase!

SPLENDID SWING: THE BASIN STREET BRAWLERS, “IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT”

I encounter a number of youthful players who have formed improvising bands. Many of these small orchestras, to my delight, attempt to bring their own personalities — ferocious or tender — to the great repertoire of the last century. But few of them succeed so consistently as a new British group, THE BASIN STREET BRAWLERS.  Their debut CD, IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT, is a recent issue — a limited edition of 500 copies — and I encourage you to investigate both the band and the disc.

BRAWLERS

Here’s their “showreel,” a collection of samples from their live performances:

You’ll notice certain things from this video tasting menu: the band has a light, easy bounce; trumpeter Peter Horsfall is a concise, lyrical player and an especially fine singer.  (Imagine if Bob Howard or Louis Prima had been born in London — swinging, impassioned, but never overstated.)  The rest of the band is equally convincing, never trying too hard, but gently leaning into the swing winds: trombonist / vocalist Malcolm Earle-Smith and guitar master Martin Wheatley (whom I’ve seen and admired often at Whitley Bay) are the official representatives from a slightly older generation, but they fit right in with clarinetist / saxophonist Ewan Bleach, pianist Colin Good, string bassist Dave O’Brien, and drummer Mez Clough.

The repertoire on this CD — structured with a beginning, middle, and end — says a great deal about this band’s love and expertise — with small evocations of Teddy Wilson, Louis, Jack Teagarden, Goodman small groups, and more: A SMOOTH ONE (Intro) / IF DREAMS COME TRUE / JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS / IF ONLY YOU KNEW (an original hinting at Hodges and Strayhorn) / ALL MY LIFE / HOW AM I TO KNOW? / STARS FELL ON ALABAMA / ONCE IN A WHILE / IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT! / SWING THAT MUSIC / A SMOOTH ONE (Outro) / LOTUS BLOSSOM (Bonus track).  There’s even two very brief but pleasing appearances by one Natty Bo as “guest M.C.”

It’s beautifully recorded at the renowned Porcupine Studios, and the CD is a consistent pleasure.

(I didn’t have to do any mind-editing: “Oh, this would be wonderful if only _____ didn’t do this,” which dogs some of the new CDs I am asked to comment on.)

If you’d like to purchase the CD — an indication of sound judgment, I think, the best place is the “SHOP” section of the band’s website. For those who can’t wait for a physical disc, they can be satisfied by a download here. Candidly, as engaging as the “showreel” is, the CD is even more rewarding.

Once I heard the music, I became both advocate and fan. But I had one quibble — with the band’s chosen appellation. I admired the alliteration, but asked Peter if he was fully aware of the connotations of “brawlers.” (Yes, Yeats referred to a sparrow making that noise in the eaves, but I somehow thought this was not an avian swing group.) Peter’s answer was charmingly candid: “Brawlers  – came really from my understanding of the roots of this music. Trying to give a little light hearted reference to the bar brawls and whorehouses that hot jazz accompanied!”

I couldn’t argue with that.  And I assure any timorous listeners that neither the band or the CD will ruin your furniture, behave badly, or irritate the neighbors.

And the BSB has or have a Facebook page, with a gig schedule — crucial in these busy days and nights.

May your happiness increase!