Tag Archives: Hot Jazz Trio

THREE BY THREE AT WHITLEY BAY (July 11, 2010)

Originally I thought of calling this post COULDN’T BE BETTER, but I decided to be less emphatic.  Still, I am a devout and devoted admirer of the Hot Jazz Trio, one of the few aggregations on this planet that not only lives up to their billing but usually transcends it. 

Who are (or is?) the Hot Jazz Trio?  The simple answer is Bent Persson, trumpet, cornet, mellophone, and even vocals; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone and masterful master of ceremonies; Jacob Ullberger, banjo, guitar, and more. 

These three musicians are Swedish, but they don’t get together that frquently for gigs, because they don’t all live nearby.  So what I have in my mind and ears is a wondrous CD on the Kenneth label, titled HOT JAZZ TRIO, their 2009 performance at Whitley Bay, and their briefer one this year.  That’s not enough, but it will have to do for the moment.

The three videos below tell the story of a versatile jazz ensemble, who (collectively and singly) are able to get inside the skins of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the Ellington orchestra of the late Thirties and early Forties, Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang.  They aren’t trying to “play old records live,” but they do bring those noble ghosts into the room and make them welcome.

Here’s their AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, both energized and focused:

And in the name of good Middle East relations, they summon up not only an amusing period piece (LENA suggested EGYPTIAN ELLA and more) but also the ODJB and all that vaguely exotic splendor of the beginning of the last century — in LENA FROM PALESTEENA:

And, because everyone needs a little more disposable income, here’s BEAU KOO JACK — in honor of Louis, Earl, and Don Redman:

Live, lively, and more — the Hot Jazz Trio!

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HOT JAZZ TRIO, July 11, 2009

The name is simple, accurate, not the slightest bit hyperbolic.  They’re a compact, thrifty jazz orchestra, getting the maximum of variety and orchestral scope — not to mention a plunging swing on hot tunes, a delicate depth on slow ones — out of this apparently-improbable combination of instruments.  Bent Persson plays trumpet, cornet, occasionally Eb alto horn (at Whitley Bay, he borrowed a valve trombone from Mike Durham); Frans Sjostrom is majestic yet mobile on the bass sax; Jacob Ullberger holds it all together on banjo and guitar.  Sadly, their schedules keep them from playing together: Frans said that they have sessions like this only once a year, so I was delighted to be able to capture this one on video.  But they did record an extraordinarily fine CD on Gosta Hagglof’s Kenneth label under this title: look for it wherever better books and records are sold!

The critical viewer might catch a fluffed note or a missed cue — but I have chosen to post their entire hour-long set because this group gets together to play so infrequently.  And I think that the without-a-net quality of these performances makes them irreplaceable. 

Their Whitley Bay program alternated between Jelly Roll Morton, early Ellington, and Bix — to great effect.  Here they are on KANSAS CITY STOMPS, summoning up a seven or eight piece band.  I didn’t miss any of the Red Hot Peppers in this version:

Early Ellington followed, the pretty but moving BLACK BEAUTY:

Bix was all around us, so the Hot Jazz Trio took off on SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Sidney Bechet’s pretty SOUTHERN SUNSET (WHEN THE SUN SETS DOWN SOUTH):

Bix and Company again (as well as Eddie Condon) on Hoagy Carmichael’s RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Their adaptation of Frank Trumbauer’s take on JAPANESE SANDMAN:

PEE WEE’S BLUES featured Frans and Jacob, while Bent rested his lip for a few minutes:

STEAMBOAT STOMP, complete with whistle, returned to the world of Jelly Roll Morton, with the Hot Jazz Trio becoming a whole roomful of Red Hot Peppers:

On DUSK, they magically evoked the 1940-1 Ellington band, with Bent picking up a valve trombone he had borrowed from Mike Durham for the occasion:

MOVE OVER returned to an earlier Ellington Era:

CLARINET MARMALADE for Bix, Tram, and Lang:

Finally, a jubilant BLACK BOTTOM STOMP to conclude the hour:

Is it hot in here ot is it just the Trio?

O RARE BENT PERSSON (and FRIENDS)!

Last night — Thursday, July 9, 2009 —  I witnessed the kind of jazz creativity and bravery that at times left me with tears in my eyes. 

The occasion was a concert organized by the Swedish trumpeter / cornetist / Louis Armstrong scholar Bent Persson, one of my heroes, in tribute to his hero Louis: “YOUNG LOUIS,” which — in two hour-long sets — demonstrated much about Louis’s first six years of recordings as well as the majesty of players now alive. 

The band was a stellar international crew: Mike Durham, tpt, joining Bent at the start and finish, as well as being a most adept and witty master of ceremonies; the gruff trombonist Paul Munnery; the brilliant reedman (clarinet and alto this time) Matthias Seuffert; the nimble pianist Martin Litton; the remarkable plectrist (banjos and guitar) Jacob Ullberger; the very fine brass bassist Phil Rutherford; the frankly astonishing percussionist Nick Ward.  The concert took place at the very modern Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, UK — lovely acoustics and a sound engineer at the back who was truly paying attention!  I attempted to videotape the whole thing (being a man of daring but not much discretion) but was stopped by an usher who whispered ferociously that there was NO photography of any kind allowed and I would have to leave if I continued . . . so I stopped.  But I did capture the band’s second song, a stately rock through King Joe Oliver’s WHERE DID YOU STAY LAST NIGHT? — much as it might have sounded in Chicago, 1922-23.  My video doesn’t capture everything — but you can see the graceful arcs of Nick Ward’s arms behind his drum set: I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him.   

Lovely as it is, that performance can’t summon up all of what I found so moving in this concert.  It wasn’t a pure repertory performance, where musicians strive to reproduce old records “live”; no, what was fascinating was the fervent interplay between the Past and Now, between the Great Figures and the living players onstage.  Everyone in this band knew the original records, but they were encouraged to dance back and forth between honoring the past by playing it note-for-note and by going for themselves.  Thus, Bent created solos that sounded like ones Louis might have — should have! — recorded, and his bravery and risk-taking were more than heartening.  I have never seen him in person, and he would give the most timid of us courage to learn the craft, to shut our eyes, and to make something new.  His playing on POTATO HEAD BLUES was immensely moving — watching him dare the Fates and declare his love for Louis in front of our eyes.  Bent also sang in several performances — mostly scatting, but once or twice delivering the lyrics in a sweetly earnest way — another example of an artist going beyond the amazing things we’ve already come to expect.  It was also delightful to watch the musicians grin broadly at each other as the beautiful solos and ensemble work unfolded.   

The concert moved briskly from Louis’s sojourn with Oliver to his work with Clarence Williams small groups, his own Hot Five and Seven, an evocation of Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards, Louis’s duet with Earl Hines, his Hot Choruses (as reimagined by Bent over a thirty-year period), with more than a few surprises.  One of them — gloriously — was the appearance of bass saxophone titan Frans Sjostrom for a version of BEAU KOO JACK by the trio called, so correctly, the Hot Jazz Trio (their one CD is under that name on the Kenneth label): Bent, Jacob, and Frans.  Wonderful both in itself and as a reinvention of that brightly ornate recording.  Sjostrom stayed around for the final ensemble celebration on HIGH SOCIETY, which brought tears to my eyes.   

I am posting this on Friday morning, hours before the Whitley Bay extravaganza — some 130 bands playing in rotation for three days in four simultaneous locations — is scheduled to begin.  There’ll be more magnificent, moving jazz, I am sure!  It promises to be both uplifting and overwhelming.  (And, as an extra delight, I am joined here by two of my three Official British Cousins — Bob Cox and John Whitehorn — men of great humor, generosity, and sensibility — whom I first met at Westoverledingen, Germany, in 2007, when we were rapt attendees at another Manfred Selchow jazz festival.  Always nice to have friends nearby!)

A postscript: at the concert, copies of an otherwise unknown compact disc were for sale — a recording of a similar YOUNG LOUIS concert from 2002, with many of the same players.  I snapped up one copy (paying for it, of course) and by the end of the concert, the CDs were all gone.  Let us hope that Bent and Co. choose to reissue that one and other versions.  I’m going to treasure it, as well as my memories of the concert I experienced.

NEXT STOP, WHITLEY BAY!

suitcaseFor someone who spent the better part of his life venturing no more than a hundred miles from his birthplace, I’ve traveled a great deal since 2004, most of my peregrinations courtesy of and beside the Beloved, the world’s finest travel companion.

And we’d already made plans to go to the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua in September (where we’ll hear and meet Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Duke Heiger, Becky Kilgore, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, Jon-Erik Kellso, James Dapogny, Bob Reitmeier . . . need I say more) — that delightful party situated amidst the lovely leaf-strewn walks and cottages of Chautauqua, New York.

But as my faithful readers know, I have never been to a British jazz party, although some of the jazz musicians I revere are European.  So when I read about July’s Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, run by trumpeter Mike Durham, my pulse rate increased and I began to fantasize.  Bent Persson, Frans Sjostrom, Matthias Seuffert, Spats Langham, Nick Ward, Martin Wheatley, Jacob Ullberger, Michael McQuaid, the Red Hot Reedwarmers, Rene Hagmann, Norman Field, the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings . . .people I’ve admired so much on Stomp Off, Kenneth, and other CDs.

Initially I simply wanted to go in the way that people would like to do something.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hear all these musicians I’ve only heard on record and CD?  But it would be so far away.  It would be inconvenient (flying is not my passion); it would cost a great deal; the Beloved had larger plans for a UK tour — involving things beyond staying in a hotel for four days listening to jazz from noon to midnight.  So I put it aside in the corner of my mind where the things I want to do but have some doubts about aleep at night.

Then it hit me — I can’t say I sat up in bed or had to pull over to the side of the road on the way to work.  I wasn’t knocked out of my saddle.  But I have been teasingly saying to friends for the past two years that the Beloved and I have incorporated to form the CARPE DIEM TRAVEL AGENCY (deep discounts, experienced planning, an easy payment plan).

But the nagging question formed itself over and over in my mind: “What if I should die and never have heard the Hot Jazz Trio (Persson, Sjostrom, and Ullberger) live, not on CDs?”  It was too painful to envision.  Two days ago, I booked my flight — an extravaganza of airplanes and airports beyond belief — and I just gave the Village Newcastle (the hotel where the festival takes place) my credit card information.

I’m coming!  And my head surely isn’t bending low.  If any blog-readers are going to be at Whitley Bay (and I cannot, for the life of me, see how anyone could resist the lineup), please let me know.  Perhaps you can guide me to a portion of fish and chips that won’t stop my heart by the second bite, perhaps I can find some American CDs you’ve been searching for.  Or something equally friendly and enlivening.

That lineup and more is posted at http://www.whitleybayjazzfest.org

HOT REUNION! THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS on CD

On April 17, when I wrote a few lines about this wonderful hot band (see UNION RHYTHM KINGS) I had already had the pleasure of hearing several tracks from their debut CD on their MySpace page.  Now, through the kindness of Trygve Hernaes, the CD’s executive producer, I’ve heard the disc, called A HOT REUNION.  That it is!  Astonishing music, precise yet abandoned, fierce yet relaxed — the qualities that characterizes the best jazz, perhaps the finest art.  And the band’s “heat” is not a matter of speed and volume; most of the performances on this disc are at at medium tempos, but they swing and stomp remarkably.

The band title, I now know, harks back to the peaceable union of Norway and Sweden (1814-1905), and it’s not a history lesson.  Three members of the URK (Bent Persson, cornet / trumpet;  Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, banjo/guitar) are Swedish; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds, and Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, are Norwegian.  A most equitable balance, giving new meaning to the idea of a “mixed band.”  Kristoffer and Lars are stars of the Jazzin’ Babies; Bent, Frans, and Jacob play and record as the Hot Jazz Trio, and Morten is an institution unto himself.

The CD pays tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and (by extension) Bing Crosby with AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, THE LOVE NEST, YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, WA-DA-DA, RHYTHM KING, JAZZ ME BLUES, and ROYAL GARDEN BLUES; it honors Louis and King Oliver with KEYHOLE BLUES and CHATTANOOGA STOMP; Jelly Roll Morton has his moments with THE CHANT, KANSAS CITY STOMPS, THE PEARLS, and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP.  That would be enough for anyone — but this band has a particular fondness for the music that Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham made while members of the Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the hottest band on record in 1929-30: the URK revisits DOCTOR BLUES and HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES.

Some readers might think, “Do I really need another version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”?

Yes, when the Union Rhythm Kings play it.

Much of the repertoire above from 1923-30 has already been explored by “traditional” bands all over the world.  And if you were to listen to all those recordings, an arduous task, you would note many “recreations” and many “improvisations.”  Some bands feel that the only way to pay our ancestors proper homage is to treat the Victors, OKehs, and Gennetts as sacred text to be copied note for note.  Although this can be electrifying when done expertly in concert, for example, it has serious philosophical limitations.  And simply “jamming” on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, for instance, means that once the players are through the first two strains, it’s a medium-tempo blues, perhaps characterless.

The URK steer between these two extremes: their performances take inspiration, shape, and often tempos from the originals, but the solos are fresh, inventive.  And the results are glorious.  Hearing CHATTANOOGA STOMP, I thought, for the first time, “This must have been what the Creole Jazz Band really sounded like.”  Now, it didn’t hurt that each man here is a brilliant soloist, “tops on his instrument for tonation and phrasing,” and that each soloist knows the repertoire intimately.  But they all are brilliant team players.  Often, collections of “all-stars” turn out to be exercises in ego, muted or open, with the players less concerned about creating a band than about playing their solo.  Nothere.

And the CD is brimful with additional delights: on-target notes by trumpeter Mike Durham (who really can write!), and beautiful SACD Surround Sound.

I originally wanted to title this post THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW, but I thought my esoteric reference to the marijuana culture of the Thirties might be too arcane.  But mellow the music is, indeed.

You can purchase this CD by contacting the producer, Trygve Hernaes, at Sonor as/Herman Records, Postbox 4275, NO-7436 Trondheim, Norway, or via email: sonoras@online.no., or trygve.hernes@bntv.no.  A CD costs $25, and payments can be made only by MasterCard or Visa, but this hot music is worth the effort.  I look forward to many more such reunions!

BENT PERSSON, FRANS SJOSTROM, BOB ERWIG

This video performance of “After You’ve Gone,”  taken at a Polish jazz festival last August, is a prize because it captures two of my heroes in performance: the astonishing trumpeter Bent Persson and bass saxophonist Frans Sjostrom.  The footage comes to us (via YouTube) courtesy of the generous patron of jazz video Bob Erwig, a fine trumpeter himself.

The band, the Malmo Jazz Kings, is led by trombonist Dymitr Markiewicz, who provided the film for Bob to share.

Bob explains, “Dymitr surrounded himself with some great Swedish musicians. On trumpet we see world renowned Bent Persson playing together with a young trumpet player of great talent who I noticed first with Gunhild Carlings Big Band.  Then also from Sweden is Max Carling on clarinet.  Another world famous musician is Frans Sjostrom on bass sax.  They are backed up by the Polish musicians pianist Wojtek Kamisky, drummer Bobby Sakowicz and banjoist Pawel Tartanus.  The free spirit of a jam session comes through, darn good musicians who know the jazz standards. Unfortunately it is so hard to get the right balance in a tent or a small room, both drums and banjo sound somewhat overamplified, but then it is the jazz that counts and these jazzmen certainly know what they are doing.”

Enthusiasm, skill, beauty — who minds a few rough edges?  And if you would like to admire Bent and Frans in a more intimate — but no less intense — context, look for a CD on the Kenneth Records label, HOT JAZZ TRIO, which is both a tour-de-force and a casual example of fine chamber jazz.