Tag Archives: Halfway House Orchestra

ALEX OWEN’S SAVORY HOT CUISINE

I know that many of my metaphors and analogies are about food (the result of blogging-while-hungry) but in this case I have good reason: listening to and celebrating the second CD, THAT’S MY HOME, by The Messy Cookers Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Alex Owen:

MESSY COOKERS JB cover

and a photograph of the band caught in its natural habitat:

messycookers

Here you can listen to samples from the CD — ideally, while you read about it below.  (The CD stands up wonderfully without my text, I assure you.)

There is a certain kind of “modern performance practice” that I like and admire very much.  It’s based on a deep reverence for and knowledge of a beloved tradition, where the musicians treat the music tenderly but with light hearts, knowing that the way to show love for an innovative art form is to gently innovate within its idioms.  (As an early unpublished draft of Emerson’s “The American Scholar” points out, “Krupa was never made by the study of Krupa.”)

So while this amiable twenty-first century approach to jazz classics isn’t imitative, it isn’t self-consciously “innovative,” either.  RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE is light and energized, not recast as a samba or a dirge.  Jazz scholars can very well appreciate the sounds of the Messy Cookers — they are expert, passionate, and precise — but so could an audience that doesn’t have a wall of E+ Halfway House Orchestra 78s, an audience in the mood for lyrical syncopated dance music.

It isn’t atmospheric but amateurish busking.  And it isn’t repressed archaeology.

One of the nicest aspects of this CD (and of the Cookers as an organization) is their subtle flexibility.  The collective ensemble has Alex, trumpet / vocals; James Evans, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Benjamin “Benny” Amón, drums; Andy Reid, bass, vocals; John Eubanks, guitar; Albanie Falletta, guitar / vocals; Steve Pistorius, piano.  Notice, no trombone, tuba, or banjo.  And as Alex explains in his notes, the instrumentation shifts from song to song — with smaller units within the band for variety and liveliness, also to reflect the different ways in which the Cookers reconfigure themselves for actual gigs.  The overall effect is streamlined but fulfilling: I never missed the instruments I was supposed to miss by the laws of jazz orthodoxy.

And although the songs on this disc might qualify for Social Security and Medicare, coming to us before the Second World War, everything is happily energized here.  “Play it like you mean it!” seems to be the underlying principle, vocally and instrumentally, and the results are charming and convincing — not a group of people who have tried to become “authentic” in an intensive weekend. I love the group vocal congregational responses on HESITATION BLUES and MILENBERG JOYS, and even though I’ve heard BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE often enough, Albanie’s tangy singing makes it come alive for me. Alex gets plus points for including THAT’S MY HOME on his disc, making it the title cut, singing it naturally and soulfully, refusing to imitate Louis.  James Evans’ ferocious alto and intensely satisfying singing make WHO’S SORRY NOW? a modern evocation of the Rhythmakers, which is a great thing indeed.

Some of the names on this disc — Reid, Amón, Eubanks, Falletta, and even the leader — might be less familiar than Evans and Pistorius — but the band is delightfully unified at the highest level.  Alex is a splendidly casual player and singer, and by that I mean he makes the difficult seem matter-of-fact; his lines ring and sing.  Everything he does has a rhythmic bounce, no matter what the tempo, and he is a superb leader, letting everyone have a turn, creating witty, varied ensembles that rock in the best modern way.

When I was finished with my first playing of this disc, the only natural thing was to play it again.  It’s delightful music.  And not only would I suggest that you indulge yourself in purchasing a copy, but perhaps one for a younger person who likes jazz — so that (s)he can be reminded that this lovely raucous delicate art is still being practiced in the most exultant ways in this century.  And for us, it’s a wonderful hopeful sign of vibrant life in the art form we cherish (and worry about).

Oh, and in case “Messy Cookers” makes you wonder whether the rangetop is a war scene of burnt-on food, take heart: I am sure that Alex and company mean it as the best sly compliment to music and musicians who create something loose, exuberant, spicy, and tasty.

Visit here to purchase the disc, or, better still, find the Messy Cookers at one of their gigs.

May your happiness increase!

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ONE MORE FOR MISTER MIKE: “NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”: MICHAEL McQUAID’S HALFWAY HOUSE ORCHESTRA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Oct. 28, 2012)

If “Mister Mike” isn’t someone recognizable to you, would you kindly take a minute and read this?  It would mean a great deal to many people, and (to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie) “No him, no this.”

In a rollicking tribute to the under-acknowledged Halfway House Orchestra, a memorable amalgam of hot and sweet, Michael McQuaid leads his ebullient troops onwards at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (this session recorded on Oct. 28, 2012): Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael and Stephane Gillot, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Spats Langham, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass / brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

PUSSY CAT RAG (with Stephane acting the part of Leon Roppolo):

LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

SQUEEZE ME (with the authentically wrong verse):

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

IT BELONGS TO YOU:

SNOOKUM:

LOVE DREAMS:

I WANT SOMEBODY TO LOVE:

JUST PRETENDING:

If you’ve wondered why people are so passionate about the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, this music should be convincing on its own.  But please notice: the best international musicians diving deep into under-explored but rewarding songs and repertoire.  Other festivals provide their own blend of pleasures, but Whitley Bay is and has been remarkable for just this . . . a vivid embodiment of Gavin Stevens’ words in a William Faulkner novel: “The past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past.”  Especially not when it sounds like this!

And, as always, tickets are on sale to the 2013 Party, that hot cornucopia, here.

May your happiness increase.

STILL MORE HOT NOTES FROM THE WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sunday, October 28, 2012)

Sunday was the final official day of this year’s Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay, but it wasn’t a disappointment, even given the heights hit on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Impatient readers may scroll down to the bottom, although you’ll lose points on the final examination.

The first set of the day was especially ambitious — a history of jazz (at least the middle Twenties to the middle Forties) that was gleaming and inventive —  because it didn’t traverse the ground from HIGH SOCIETY to ANTHROPOLOGY, but delineated the journey in seven original compositions and arrangements by Matthias Seuffert — one evoking the Hot Five, another Bix and Tram, tributes and sly homages to Basie and Hawkins, to Ellington and a Goodman small group . . . ending up with Matthias’ brilliant rewriting of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA as a 1945 boppish small group.  I  hope the startling swerve into Modernism upset no one: it kept me enthralled.

An hour-long consideration of Louis, Bechet, and Clarence Williams followed — with strong playing and singing by Bent Persson, Jens Lingren, Thomas Winteler, and Cecile McLorin Salvant — in addition to a scorching two-reed extravagana (Stephane Gillot and Winteler) on CANDY LIPS.

Just as fine — although different — was Matthias Seuffert’s bow to Benny Carter, with Rene Hagmann on trumpet, Alistair Allan, trombone, and a rocking rhythm section of Richard Pite, Martin Litton, Henry Lemaire — with versions of BLUES IN MY HEART, DOOZY, WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW, BLUE INTERLUDE, SMACK, JUST A MOOD, and I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SWING.  (My notes read “lovely” and “just perfect.”)

What could follow that?  How about Bent Persson, Kristoffer Kompen, Michael McQuaid, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Spats Langham, Martin Litton, Nick Ward, and Rico Tomasso (vocal and trumpet) bringing us a superior version of the Armstrong – Hines Savoy Ballroom Five?  The set began with FIREWORKS, which turned out to be truth in advertising.  Then — just as good as much more rare — an hour spent with the music of King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators circa 1926 — including a riotous WA WA WA and a chart the band was seeing for the first time, SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT.  Topping that was a genuinely exact and ecstatic reincarnation of the Halfway House Orchestra, with glorious playing from Andy Schumm, Michael McQuaid, Stephane Gillot, and Nick Ward — drumming as if possessed by the great spirits of savage grace.

Sunday concluded 9officially) with a stand-up-and-cheer 1937 Goodman concert with masterful playing, ensemble and solo . . . my room one story above was rocking!

After the Goodman tribute ended, sedate souls went to bed.

But I went to the Victory Pub for a jam session that began with Andy Schumm (now informally attired) romping through his favorite late-Twenties repoertoire . . . before friends came along: Rico Tomasso, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Thomas Winteler, Frans Sjostrom, Jens Lindgren, Josh Duffee, Malcolm Sked, Alistair Allan, Michael McQuaid, Matthias Seuffert, and other gifted roisterers.  I needed my sleep but stayed there until two in the morning (and you will see some of the reason I couldn’t leave!).  Extravagant creativity in near-darkness including sweet leisurely versions of TOPSY, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, I NEVER KNEW, ONCE IN A WHILE (the Hot Five version), I SAW STARS and LESTER LEAPS IN . . . Minton’s comes to Newcastle, as lit by Edward Hopper, recorded by Jerry Newman with a video camera.

Because of the “storm” or Hurricane Sandy, my flight to New York was cancelled.  But I was given the chance to make the most sublime jazz lemonade.  Paul Adams, of Lake Records, was creating a Vintage Recording Session with a Jazz-Age big band of Whitley Bay superstars: Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Kristoffer Kompen, Stephane Gillot, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert, Michael McQuaid, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked, Spats Langham, Josh Duffee, and a guest appearance by Bent Persson.  I couldn’t stay for the whole session, but I heard them play POTATO HEAD BLUES (with the Louis and Dodds solos scored for brass and reeds, respectively), JAZZNOCHRACY, AWFUL SAD, HOT AND BOTHERED, CHANT OF THE WEED, ONE MORE TIME, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, MANDY (MAKE UP YOUR MIND), WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THAT MEAN LOWDOWN (a Berlin tune introduced by Bing in the film REACHING FOR THE MOON), STAMPEDE, MY PRETTY GIRL, and they were part-way through MILENBERG JOYS when I had to leave to make a train . . .   It will be a profoundly stirring recording — and the project needs subscribers.  Paul and Linda were asking for jazz-lovers to become patrons at a minimum of thirty pounds apiece, for which they would get their names in the CD booklet and a copy of the CD itself.  More information to come — but you can click fellside    for details.

I will post videos from this year’s extravaganza in a week or so — but take it from me.  The 2012 CJP was a sustained explosion of joy, and the 2013 promises to scrape the clouds — with appearances by Les Red Hot Reedwarmers (with Aurelie Tropez) and the Union Rhythm Kings (with Bent Persson, Frans Sojstrom, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Jacob Ullberger, Kristoffer Kompen, and others).

November 1-3, 2013.   If you are able to attend and you don’t, you’ll have missed something very special.  And if you don’t mind whispering a fact in your ears, the 2012 party was sold out.  People had to be turned away.

Check whitleybay for detials.

The musicians invited for the 2013 party include:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Enrico Tomasso (UK), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Andy Woon (UK)

Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK)

Reeds: Aurélie Tropez (France), Stéphane Gillot (France), Claus Jacobi (Germany) , Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Mauro Porro (Italy)

Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Jeff Barnhart (USA), Morten Gunnar Larssen (Norway), Martin Seck (Germany)

Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Martin Wheatley (UK), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Keith Stephen (UK)

String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Malcolm Sked (UK)

Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Jean-Philippe Palma (France)

Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Julien Richard (France), Nick Ward (UK)

Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden)

Violin: Mike Piggott (UK)

Vocals: Daryl Sherman (USA), Caroline Irwin (UK), Spats Langham (UK)

Here’s something both sweet and hot from Friday, October 26 — part of a tribute to Lovie Austin enacted by Rene Hagmann, Jens Lindgren, Thomas Winteler, Martin Litton, Roly VEitch, and Josh Duffee:

And here’s a valuable lesson in swinging animal husbandry from a JElly Roll Morton tribute (featuring Enrico Tomasso, Kristoffer Kompen, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ward, Michael McQuaid — BILLY GOAT STOMP — with the ordinarily quite evolved Nick doing the convincing animal imitations (and making the band laugh in the process):

And — the lovely sound you hear in those videos is in no small part because of the sensitive hard work of Chris and Veronica Perrin — who made sure the music sounded like music.

May your happiness increase.