Some listeners believe jazz can be seen as a series of grassy plots, each sealed off and protected an electrical fence. Thus, the Bad doesn’t infect the Good, the Impure is quarantined from the Truth.
“Old school” bands play GRANDPA’S SPELLS; “swing bands” play DICKIE’S DREAM; “modern” bands play “‘ROUND MIDNIGHT.”
This artifice was created and encouraged by writers, who believed that art could be conceptualized as a straight line, a flow chart, moving towards Progress or Decline. Pres begat Bird who begat Trane . . .
Most musicians I know smile wearily when confronted with these stifling divisions. They know that the distance between King Oliver and Bird doesn’t even exist. In the Forties and Fifties, players trooped into recording studios to make music under these pretenses: HOT MEETS COOL, SWING MEETS DIXIE, and DIXIELAND GOES MODERN (real titles for actual recording dates). But they knew that the names were simply journalistic devices to package music for consumers and to sell products: the music itself was not altered or harmed by the names.
Thirty and more years ago, I saw two discs in a used record store, by a French band I had never heard of, the ANACHRONIC JAZZ BAND.
From “anachronism,” I knew something interesting was happening, and even though my five years of French had eroded, I could figure out that this band was doing something deliciously unusual: playing “bop” and “modern” material in older styles — taking a Charlie Parker line and playing it in the style of a 1926 Jelly Roll Morton recording.
I bought the records in the spirit of “What could possibly go wrong?” — and they were immensely rewarding.
See for yourself in this 1977 performance of ANTHROPOLOGY:
First, you can’t miss the high good spirits here and the immense expertise: the Anachronics are deeply swinging and wonderfully precise but never stiff.
Second, the whole notion is hilariously wonderful, but not in the often mean-spirited way that comedy / parody / satire often operate (think of Chubby Jackson’s DIXIELAND STOMP, where “modern” musicians play “Dixieland” as a messy amateurish creation). And it is deeply inquisitive — asking questions of jazz and its “styles” — rather than presenting a production of KING LEAR where everyone wears jeans and speaks in rap cadences.
The Anachronics aren’t satirizing Dizzy and Bird, Morton and Henderson. Rather, their music is intensely witty play: “What would happen if we brought this composition into this world? How could we honor both of them and have a rousing good time while doing it?”
The AJB began in 1976 and rolled along to great acclaim until 1980. Although they apparently were based in the past, they were thrillingly original: no one was doing what they did! But this post isn’t a nostalgic look back at something rich and rare that is now gone.
I am delighted to write that there is a new AJB CD, just out, and it is a rich banquet of sounds, feeling, and ideas. Recorded in January 2013, it is called BACK IN TOWN — true enough!
The repertoire comes — initially — from Parker, Rollins, Shearing, Monk, Paul Desmond, Mingus, Chick Corea, Clyde Hart, Miles, Quincy Jones — with a few clever originals by AJB members. The dazzling musicians on this disc are Philippe Baudoin, piano; Marc Richard, clarinet / alto; Patrick Artero, trumpet; Pierre Guicquéro, trombone; André Villéger, clarinet / alto / tenor; Jean-François Bonnel, clarinet / C-melody; Daniel Huck, vocal, alto; François Fournet, banjo; Gérard Gervois, tuba; Sylvain Glévarec, drums; Göran Eriksson, recorder. (Arrangements by Baudoin, Richard, Artero.)
The soloing and ensemble work couldn’t be better, and each track is simultaneously a series of small delightful explosions and a revelation. More than “listening to a record,” I felt as if I were perusing a collection of short stories . . . art that reveals itself more and more, a matter of shadings and gleams, on each hearing.
It has become an invaluable disc for me, and I hope it is the first of many to come. See and hear for yourself: the Anachronic Jazz Band is truly back in town, and we are very grateful.
Here’s a sample of their recent work, captured by Jeff Guyot in July 2013: COOKIN’ THE FROG:
May your happiness increase!