I published this post slightly more than five years ago, and the music remains so delightful that I thought it would be a sin not to offer it to the eager public once again.
My title isn’t hyperbole. For when the band hit the first four bars of LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, I felt as if I had been time-and-space transported to the original Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street . . . even though I’d never been to the actual club.
This was the penultimate set I saw and recorded at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, and it was one of the high points. I had been enjoying Hal Smith’s International Sextet through the Memorial Day weekend, but this version hit not one but many high notes. The regulars were there in splendid form: Hal on drums, Katie Cavera on guitar and vocals; Anita Thomas on clarinet, alto, and vocals; Kim Cusack on clarinet, tenor, and vocals. But Clint Baker had shifted from string bass to trombone (sounding incredibly like a gutty evocation of Sandy Williams and Jimmy Harrison, taking tremendous chances throughout), and Austin, Texas, native Ryan Gould played bass. And — as a special treat — Bria Skonberg joined in on trumpet and vocal.
Here’s what happened.
Hal called LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (always a pleasant thought), surely inspired by the memory of that famous Commodore session in 1938 with Pee Wee, Bobby, Brunis, Bud, Stacy, Condon, Shapiro, and Wettling: the 2011 band had a similar instrumentation and the same drive:
How about something rocking and multi-lingual for the charming Ms. Skonberg to sing and play — like BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:
Something for our canine friends? LOW DOWN DOG, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, is reminiscent of both Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson — a neat trick!
The next selection — deliciously low-down — poses a philosophical question. When Katie Cavera sings and plays about SISTER KATE, is it meta-jazz, or M.C. Escher in swingtime? Puzzle me that. Anyway, it’s a wonderful performance complete with the tell-it-all verse:
Then a jazz gift from Hal and the band — a POSTCARD TO AUNT IDA, celebrating one of the warmest people we will ever know, Ida Melrose Shoufler of Farmer City, Illinois, the surviving child of Chicago piano legend Frank Melrose, a pianist, singer, and deep-down jazz fan herself — here’s Kim Cusack to tell us all that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE. Today!
Anita told us all how everything would be make-believe if love didn’t work, in IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON:
Then, some hi-jinks. Jazz and comedy have always gone together, even if Gunther Schuller sneered at “showmanship,” and what follows is hilarious impromptu choreography. I don’t know which of the happily high-spirited players noticed that this was a two-camera setup (independently, Rae Ann Berry on the band’s right, myself on their left) and said, “Do something for the camera. So you have Clint exuberantly singing DINAH while the rest of the band plays the most musical of musical chairs:
I’d like to see that video get international exposure: could we start the first (and last) JAZZ LIVES chain letter, where readers send this clip of DINAH to their friends? The world needs more joy . . .
Finally, Bria sang and played her own version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN to close off this exultantly satisfying performance:
It was a big auditorium, with advertisements for a Premier Active Adult Community behind the band, but it looked and sounded like the original Eddie Condon’s to me. . . .