The trombonist Charlie Halloran has a sweetly audacious imagination. We can all say, “I wonder what this combination of musical experiences would sound like”; Charlie goes ahead and gives his brightly-colored set of possibilities musical shape. And the surprises that result are so very pleasing. Before I introduce you to his latest creation, I would go back a few years to praise one from the past:
Charlie is the first-call trombonist in New Orleans, which means that he plays with a variety of bands — Tuba Skinny, the Shotgun Jazz Band, the Little Big Horns, his own Quality Six, and more. He’s come up to New York to be a featured guest with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, where he played nobly and made everyone happy. But I think his heart beats fastest (without rushing, mind you) to a larger world-view than SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.
Charlie has immersed himself in that wonderful Venn diagram where New Orleans jazz meets the music of the Caribbean, as astute listeners could hear above. This brings listeners to places they’ve never been but where the music is — although the songs are new — deeply heartfelt and satisfying. When I first began to listen to CE BIGUINE, for example, I thought within a few minutes, “This is going to be one of my favorite discs, full of embracing surprises.” And it’s remained so. When I heard Charlie play some of the same music at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I looked away from my camera to see the room swaying, the band playing. Smiles proliferated. And the room was gently sashaying in time.
Charlie’s new CD, THE ALCOA SESSIONS, is just extraordinary: not a simple plastic disc with good sounds embossed digitally into it, but a combination of a novel, a travelogue, a happy series of musical voyages to places that only exist in our ears and imaginations. Here’s the cover: doesn’t it make you feel like finding sandals and sunscreen? (It’s not even lunchtime as I write this, but a mojito dances before my eyes.)
But I hear you saying. “Alcoa. Isn’t that an antique brand of aluminum foil? What has all this got to do with music?” Patience. All will be revealed.
The Alcoa Sessions
Tomas Majcherski……Tenor Sax
Jonathan Doyle….Tenor Sax. Clarinet.
Don Vappie, John Rodli and John Maestas………..Guitar
Tyler Thomson, Pete Olinciw……..Bass
Joe Lastie, Doug Garrison, Chris Davis……..Drums
Larry Sieberth, David Boeddinghaus…….Piano
Dédé St. Prix, Drew Gonsalves, Don Vappie………Vocals
Now, a pause for some enlivening musical evidence:
Trombonist Charlie Halloran’s fifth album, and first on the ArtistShare label, imagines the musical experience aboard cruises run by the Alcoa Steamship Co. out of New Orleans from 1949-1959. Pulling from dance band repertoire of Mid Century New Orleans, Trinidad, Venezuela and Guadeloupe, the Alcoa Sessions presents a band in the style of Paul Barbarin or Dave Bartholomew, augmented by Cuban percussion, French Creole and calypso vocals, fully leaning into the Crescent City’s placement as the northernmost city in the Caribbean.
Don Vappie leads the band through “When I Was a Little Child,” a swinging creole number from the Paul Barbarin / John Bruinous band, followed by the appropriately titled “Everybody’s Wailin’,” originally recorded by Huey Piano Smith.
By now the cruise has left the Mississippi River and we begin to explore ports further south. Considered Venezuela’s unofficial national anthem, “Alma Llanera” is given a Trinidadian dance band treatment ala Johnny Gomez. The moody and exotic “Margarita Rosa” comes from the Fitz Vaughan Bryan Orchestra, another dance band working in Port of Spain throughout the 1950s.
Back on the boat now, Halloran provides the vocals for the old jazz standard, “I Used To Love (But It’s All Over)”. 1950s New Orleans saw the explosion of seminal Rock and Roll and R&B recordings, so surely a New Orleans dance band of the era would be ready to let rip on a tune such as Dave Bartholomew’s “Twins” featuring fine trumpet work here from Mike Davis.
Lionel Belasco was a prolific composer working in Barbardos, Trinidad, Venezuela and New York City through the 1960s. His composition “Miranda” is a Venezuelan waltz and provides the perfect outlet for practicing some Arthur Murray dance steps, whose classes were often taught on these cruises. But don’t get too comfortable in 3/4, as Martinique’s Dédé St. Prix is up next to lead the band through “Moune a ou, ce moune a ou,” a brisk biguine from the French Caribbean, featuring the interplay between the trombone and reeds, particularly Tomas Majcherski’s tenor, giving the trumpet player a moment to grab a drink.
Jonathan Doyle steps to the front on the raucous, “Feeling Good”, harkening to Herb Hardesty, Lee Allen and the screaming tenor sax driven R&B of the 1950s. Trinidadian/Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves of the band Kobotown joins the band for a humorous calypso from Lord Funny, featuring Gonsalves’ infectious rhythm and cadence.
The band swings out the last two numbers, first with the uptempo “Goodnight” written by Pat Castagne for the sign-off music for Radio Trinidad, and finally the dreamy tropical standard, “Song of the Islands.”
The “Alcoa Sessions” mines wonderful, under the radar repertoire, all of it danceable and from the era when calypso, biguine, R&B, and traditional New Orleans Jazz were exploding and intermingling, alongside the tiki craze, mambo and tropicalia. The Alcoa Steamship company used music imagery and language in their ads and brochures, and Halloran’s “The Alcoa Sessions” is sure to melt the ice in your drink and have you packing your suitcase for a TWA plane bound for warmer climes this winter.
Excited? I certainly was. You can check in here to hear a sample, purchase a download or a disc. Echoes of calypso, early rhythm and blues, and delicious old-school NOLA music. I’ve heard the music and am delighted. You will be, too.
I’ll let Charlie have the last word(s):
I like to imagine a young band aboard the Alcoa steamships, comfortable playing traditional jazz and New Orleans R&B, but incorporating local musicians while in port, blending calypso, beguine, and mazurkas, with their New Orleans sensibilities. This album will feature the sounds likely heard on a 13 day excursion from New Orleans through the Caribbean on the Alcoa Clipper, Corsair, and Cavalier.
May your happiness increase!