Tag Archives: Martin Wheatley

“WHAT ARE THIS BLISS?”

The music you will hear below is is my new favorite experience.  Because of it, I want to go back to 1932 and (respectfully) hug Marion Harris (so stylish, above) or at least invite her to dine, although my implausible devotion keeps on being interrupted by laughter.  Please put down what you are doing and join me for three minutes and thirteen seconds:

I don’t know if I love this performance more because of its deadpan wackiness — which is to say, Ms. Harris’ complete sweet sincerity, making the verbal jokes more perilously hilarious — or is it because I taught college English for more than forty years to young men and women who blithely could say “Him and me”?  Or is it the combination of those two elements?  I also feel that Ms. Harris’ seriousness is truly adult: this is not baby-talk in a child’s voice (think of Dot Dare and Helen Kane and others of the time).  I believe her completely, down to her sigh after the word “kiss,” even though, were she a student, I would have commended the sincerity of her ideas while walking her through the doors of the Writing Center for an extended stay.

Another wonderful aspect of this recording is its thoughtful, delicate tempo: other recordings I’ve heard, thanks to YouTube, take this song as a fairly quick one-step, emphasizing its comedy.  The one film version, where ingenue Pat Paterson sings it in a 1934 Spencer Tracy Film, BOTTOMS UP, also presents it as a comic turn.  Ms. Harris’s slower tempo permits the song to exist simultaneously as a love ballad where the singer is discovering these new emotions and as a verbal tour-de-force.

What I do know about this recording is, as we say, not much.  Ms. Harris recorded the then-current pop song (music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Mercer Cook) in May 1932 in England.  No reference work on my shelves says anything about this dear recording — it’s not “jazz” enough for the chroniclers — so I know nothing about Ms. Harris’ accompanists, except my ears tell me that the unidentified guitarist has learned his Eddie Lang deeply and well.

But this just in!  Informed evidence from the masterful guitarist Martin Wheatley:

As to the guitarist, I would say the most likely candidate is Len Fillis. Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants would have been contenders had the record been made a few years later. Even so Fillis would be favourite. In addition, the pianist sounds to me rather like Sid Bright, Fillis’ regular partner-in-crime. And in addition to that I found that Fillis recorded with Marton Harris in London on 2nd June that same year – Spring Is Here Again. It all points in one direction ! 

And, not incidentally, I think these lyrics would be fiendishly difficult to memorize and to perform without a piece of paper to glance at: the reasonably-literate singer would want to supply grammatically correct alternatives: think of Jo Stafford singing off-key and out-of-time as “Darlene Edwards.”

I would give a great deal to have been present at the collaboration of Robinson and Cook.  Did either of them suggest, “Am I In Love? I Am,” and then find out how little relevant rhymes with “am,” and propose this comic alternative?

As for I, I is smitten.

So I will listen again.  And if someone thinks, “Michael made this all up,” here’s empirical proof.  Another sheet music cover has Ethel Shutta prominently featured, and more than a half-dozen other recordings by American and British bands and vocalists are on YouTube.  But none so nice:

And that often overlooked but invaluable resource, the Internet Archive, presents 29 recordings by Ms. Harris — her complete electrical recordings from 1925-1934, with a less filtered copy of IS I IN LOVE? — here.  Treasures.

May your happiness increase!

THE FOREST HILL OWLS: A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

In the darkness, there are gratifying rays of light.  You can define that sentence in your own ways, but I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new band, the Forest Hill Owls.

I assume that the avian part of the name is homage both to the swinging New Orleans band who decided that would be a good animal to model themselves on, and the owls’ reputation for wisdom, inscrutability, and nocturnal energies.  (I could be completely wrong, and one of the Owls I know will write in to correct me: it could simply be that there are owls in Forest Hill.)

Chris Lowe, trombonist and leader, tells me that Forest Hill is a part of London where several members of the band live.  Nothing elusive about that.  They are, from the back, Nicholas D. Ball on drums, David Horniblow on bass saxophone, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo, Michael McQuaid on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tom Dennis on trumpet.  I feel very fraternal about this band, since I have met, chatted with, and admired in person Messrs. Nick, Martin, and Michael; I know and admire David from recordings.  Chris and Tom are new to me, but I salute them also.

Here’s what they look like:

and here’s what they sound like.  Prepare yourself for exuberance that clearly knows the way.

First, ALICE BLUE GOWN:

and POOR PAPA, one of those Twenties sagas of marriage imbalance, at least in financial terms, sung by Chris:

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here: I did, not wanting to miss a note.

The virtues of the band are immediately and joyously evident: their merging of respect for past traditions (as manifested by Miff Mole and his Molers and the Goofus Five in these two videos) but their delight in going for themselves.  They are not afraid to swing; their solo voices are so distinctive, as is the synergy of the band.

I look forward to more video-performances and I hope, when life returns to some semblance of what we know and love, live gigs, audiences, prosperity.  Until then, I’ll keep watching these two videos: better than coffee for reminding the nervous system about the joys of being fully awake — which is what the Forest Hill Owls truly are.

May your happiness increase!

DAVID, ANDREW, FERDINAND (THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT on DISC)

Internet commerce can feel awkward when one is attempting to say to prospective buyers, “You would enjoy spending money on this pleasurable rare object.”  Or, in the new expression I just learned from a Swedish jazz friend, “smashing the savings pig.”  Be not alarmed: purchase of this CD will not do any animal, ceramic or real, harm.

The CD in question is a beauty: “THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT / Neglected masterpieces by the first great jazz composer / ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW.” (lejazzetal Records: # LJCD21).  For those who are already excited, the link to purchase or download is here.                      .

I’ll let pianist Andrew explain:

David and I began playing together when I moved to London from Portland, Oregon, in 2013 and we quickly secured a weekly duo gig during which we learned a lot of Morton’s best known compositions.  We’ve continued to work together frequently in the Dime Notes and the Vitality Five, and one day in 2017 as we added yet another fantastic Morton tune to the book of one of the bands, David suggested we should just learn them all!  This seemed rather hilarious and we quickly started recording YouTube videos and posting them at a rate of two per week, with a goal to record and post all 93 tunes during 2018.  Despite a fair bit of stress later in the year, we managed to complete this goal and decided to put down some of our favorites in the studio for this album.  We’ve selected a cross section with a few well-known tunes and a lot of lesser-played ones demonstrating the full range of Morton’s compositional style and featuring David on bass clarinet and bass sax in addition to clarinet for some added textures.

The Morton compositions on the disc are SHREVEPORT STOMP / CROC-O-DILE CRADLE / GAN JAM / STATE AND MADISON / FINGER BUSTER / COURTHOUSE BUMP / STRATFORD HUNCH / MAMANITA / GOOD OLD  NEW YORK / FREAKISH / I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU / JUNGLE BLUES / BLACK BOTTOM STOMP / MR. JELLY LORD / MY HOME IS IN A SOUTHERN TOWN — spanning the stylistic and chronological range of his career.

The jazz audience can be thrifty, so perhaps I should explain why JAZZ LIVES readers would consider purchasing this CD when Andrew and David have unlocked the treasure chest of Mortonia week by week with slightly under one hundred music videos.  I can only say that, having followed the Complete Morton Project on video for about a year, I was delighted by what I heard on the CD.  Whether you view the videos as master takes or alternates, there is vibrant lively improvisation on each song, so I did not feel that I was listening to familiar music, even though I knew both the Morton compositions and the Oliver-Horniblow interpretations from last year.

Second, the sound is beautifully spacious — even though the YouTube channel sounded just right, the CD sound is more expansive and detailed.

Third, and this is not a comic statement, you can listen to the CD in the car without endangering others or yourself.  I would be alarmed if I got into a car with a Morton fancier who was watching the YouTube videos while attempting to drive us somewhere.  LET ME OFF UPTOWN or DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM would come instantly to mind, euphemisms for “Stop right now!”  So purchasing the COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT is not only an act of self-love; it’s good for pedestrians and other motorists.  I rest my case.  Buy it here.

Rereading what I’d written above, I wondered whether some would perceive it as flippant, which isn’t my intention.  Although Andrew and David are great players and great imaginers, their joyous work is seriously rewarding.  Morton’s work is so powerful — his compositions and  his orchestral recordings as well as his piano renderings — that it seems to leave many musicians awe-struck and somewhat frozen.  Thus, facing three minutes of architectural grandeur (say, the Victor BLACK BOTTOM STOMP) they are relegated to attempting to play the record through their own instruments in this century, and when such acrobatics come off, they are entrancing.  (Almost no one I can think of has attempted the other kind of homage: “let’s play DEAD MAN BLUES as a boogaloo,” and that is all to the good.)  What David and Andrew do and did is something else: their reductions of Morton (or, amplifications, if you consider those duo performances based on piano solos) seem to say, “We know this material is strong in every way: melody, harmony, rhythm.  Let us, as if we were restoring an irreplaceable eighteenth century painting, strip off all the accretions, all the layers of performance practice, all the flourishes that come from taking records as sacred text, and concentrate on the Music.  Let us also see, in the best New Orleans – Chicago – New York style, what our warm imaginations can bring to this song.”

Thus they venerate Morton but also play him, with wondrous results.

The link to see, hear, purchase other lejazzetal CDs — including four delightful ones by Martin Wheatley and friends; the Dime Notes; the Vitality Five, and more — is  here.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BEING “MAD” IS PLEASURE (1924, 1938, and 2017)

Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.”  Please be prepared to take notes.

“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.

PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one.  Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable?  Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:

Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence.  However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:

There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?

While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks!  12 pounds!) to share with you.  A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.

Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:

and

and

I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience.  The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey.  This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here.  And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.

But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos.  Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling.  It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007).  As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.

And the sound is worth noting, with delight.  At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could.  But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years.  Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:

He’s got it, for sure.  And his recordings are wonderful.

Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:

And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle.  If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.

I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay.  A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture.  You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.

My advice?  If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast.  Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades.  If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.

The CD is obtainable from website: https://whitleybayjazzfest.com
email:wbjazzfest@btinternet.comFor more information, contact patti_durham1@btinternet.com.

And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD!  Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT A DAY!”: JANICE DAY and MARTIN LITTON’S NEW YORK JAZZ BAND, LIVE IN LONDON (September 19, 2018)

I’ve admired the wonderful singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton for some years now, in person, CD, and video.  They are remarkable originals who evoke the jazz past while keeping their originalities intact.  Martin is a splendidly inventive improviser, able to summon up the Ancestors — Earl, Fats, Jelly, Teddy — without (as they say) breaking stride.  But he’s not merely copying four-bar modules; he’s so internalized the great swinging orchestral styles that he moves around freely in them.  Janice is deeply immersed in the tender sounds of the Twenties and Thirties — from Annette Hanshaw forwards — and she is such a crafty impersonator that it’s easy to forget that she, brightly shining, is in the midst of it all.

 

 

Janice and Martin had a splendid opportunity, on September 19, 2018, to appear — as Janice Day with Martin Litton’s New York Jazz Band — at The Spice of Life, Cambridge Circus, London. The band is Martin Litton, piano and arrangements, Martin Wheatley on guitar, Kit Massey on violin, David Horniblow on bass sax, Michael McQuaid on reeds and trumpet. And here are two quite entertaining performances from the Annette Hanshaw book.

Here’s MY SIN:

and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

Just the right mix of wistful and swinging.  Twenties authentic but not campy, and did I say swinging?  I wish Janice and Martin and their splendid band many more gigs (and more videos for us).

May your happiness increase!

LONDON’S HOTTEST RHYTHM JUGGLERS: THE VITALITY FIVE, “SYNCOPATION GONE MAD”

I’ve had an alarm clock / clock radio at the side of my bed for decades now, and its message is unvarying and irritating. Time to go to school!  Time to go to work! Time to move the car to avoid a ticket! 

But playing the new CD by The Vitality Five, its title noted above, I thought if I could rig up a musical machine that would, at first softly, play one of their glorious lively evocations of a vanished time, I would be much more willing to get out of bed and face the world.

The Vitality 5 is inherently not the same as many other bands performing Twenties hot repertoire.  For one thing, the 5’s reach is informed and deep: of the seventeen songs on this disc, perhaps four will be well-known to people who “like older jazz.”  Be assured that even the most “obscure” tunes are melodic and memorable.  More important to me is the 5’s perhaps unstated philosophy in action.  Many bands so worship the originals that they strive to create reverent copies of the original discs, and in performance this can be stunning.  But the 5 realizes something in their performances and arrangements that, to me, is immensely valuable: the people who made the original records were animated by joyous exuberance.

The players we venerate were “making it up as they went along,” as if their lives depended on it.  Theirs did, and perhaps ours do as well.

So these performances are splendidly animated by vivacious personality: they leap off the disc.  I don’t mean that the 5 is louder or faster, but they are energized.  You can’t help but hear and feel it.

Facts.  The band has been together since 2015, and it is that rare and wonderful entity — a working band.  Two of its members should be intimate pals to JAZZ LIVES readers: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano — they are the one and only Complete Morton Project.  The other three members who complete the arithmetic are special heroes of mine, people I’ve admired at the Whitley Bay / Mike Durham jazz parties: Michael McQuaid, reeds and cornet; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

And they are superb players — not only star soloists, but wonderful in ensemble, making the 5 seem much more a flexible orchestra than the single digit would suggest.  They are, as Louis would say, Top Men On Their Instruments.  Each performance has its own rhythmic surge, the arrangements are varied without being “clever,” and the band is wise enough to choose material that has a deep melodic center — memorable lines that range in performance from sweetly lyrical to incendiary.  The back cover proclaims that there are “17 CERTAIN DANCE HITS!” and it’s true.

A final word about repertoire — a subject whose narrowing I find upsetting, as some “Twenties” groups play and replay the same dozen songs: this disc offers songs I’d either never heard before (JI-JI BOO) or not in decades (THE SPHINX) as well as classics that aren’t simply transcriptions from the OKeh (FIREWORKS, EVERY EVENING, COPENHAGEN) — across the spectrum from Nichols-Mole to Clarence Williams to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and more.

I know it’s heresy to some, but the Vitality 5 performs at a level that is not only equal to the great recordings, but superior to them.  A substantial claim, but the disc supports it.

Visit here to hear their hot rendition of COPENHAGEN — also, here you can buy an actual disc or download their music.  Convinced?  I hope so.

And to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: if you perfect the Vitality Five Rise-and-Shine machine, suitable for all electric currents, do let me know.  I’ll be your first purchaser.  Failing that, please prosper, have many gigs, and make many CDs!

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP KEEPIN’ ON: ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

More from the Complete Morton Project, with never a letup: Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds.  They seem so supercharged that even I, who spend more time at the computer than my MD would like, lag behind.  Here’s a roundup of recent delights.

From Morton’s 1938 solo session, HONKY TONK MUSIC:

and Morton’s paean to his common-law wife, Anita Gonzales, SWEET ANITA MINE:

and the rather dark and somber, I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU, recorded by Morton and Lizzie Miles in 1929:

I wouldn’t feel right ending this blogpost on that particularly dark note, so Andrew and David romp for us through THE NAKED DANCE, which must have been exhausting as well as thrilling:

Not surprisingly, Andrew and David and their colleagues have to eat, pay utility bills and rent, do laundry — all things that require funding — so in addition to watching these free videos (that concept unhinges me a bit when I consider an economy for artists who offer us such beneficences for nothing) — I encourage you to support them in tangible ways.  If you live in England or thereabouts, go to gigs — the Dime Notes, the Vitality 5, and others; if you are not so close, you can support their efforts buy purchasing CDs, and get some fine music for yourself in this fashion, through a monthly series of e-78s (what a gentle oxymoron of epochs contained there).

David explains: “So this month’s Vitality Five e78 – available on Spotify, Itunes, Deezer etc etc, features a couple of things I did for the band. Firstly the spooky faux-exotic ‘Sphinx’ – originally recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in London, 1920. The ODJB prided themselves of their supposed roughness and musically illiteracy (although that was more hype than reality). As a contrast, ‘Deep Blue Sea Blues’ pays homage to two of the great sophisticates of 1920’s saxophone, alto player Bobby Davis – ably recreated by Michael McQuaid – and the high priest of the bass sax, Adrian Rollini. Follow the link if you fancy a listen https://vitalityfive.com/…/06/17/sphinx-deep-blue-sea-blues/.”

Here’s a sample of their May e-78 of EVERY EVENING:

Truly remarkable.  And generous in ways hard to imagine but glorious to receive.

May your happiness increase!

A BOWLFUL OF JELLY: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, and a new e-78 too!

Not ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas, but a visit to the land of Mortonia, reliably, gorgeously: the place where sweet, hot, plenty rhythm is the national anthem and the cosmic heartbeat. I mean the Complete Morton Project, with Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, various reeds of assorted sizes and timbres.

BIG LIP BLUES, a sermon on the virtues of respectful taciturnity, here melancholy and mobile both in its instrumental form:

SHAKE IT, which seems a simple bounce but has its own remarkable surprises:

Early Jelly — his NEW ORLEANS BLUES, with that majestic bass saxophone:

For the senior citizen who has or does everything, a positively joyous GRANDPA’S SPELLS:

The Registrar has informed me that some of you have not subscribed. Remember the final exam is coming up!

An extra bonus for the faithful nomads in the Land of Hot: the Vitality Five’s latest e-78, a treat not to be missed:

The Vitality Five, if you’ve not met them, is David and Andrew, plus loyal souls and true Michael McQuaid, Nicholas D. Ball, and Martin Wheatley: the best in their line.

May your happiness increase!

A LORD, A FROG, A DAY, SOME JOYS, AND A SPLASH OF VITALITY: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON

What blessings these nimble deep fellows are giving us!  Two live duet performances of Jelly Roll Morton’s music every Tuesday: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano: the Complete Morton Project.  And they show no signs of becoming weary.

I have to catch up, so here are four lovely offerings.  With a surprise at the end.

One of my favorite Morton compositions.  Even though I miss the vocal, the song itself has such sweet energy.  It’s MISTER JELLY LORD:

And another classic that I love — whether it’s FROG-I-MORE or FROGGIE MOORE (the contortionist?):

Here’s a rollicking performance of a Morton composition that I think few know, EACH DAY:

And what is for me the real prize, MILENBERG JOYS (home of variant spellings) performed at the most luxuriant dance tempo, sinuous and lyrical:

But wait!  There’s more!  The latest e-78 from the Vitality Five:

The Five adds Michael McQuaid, Martin Wheatley, and Nicholas D. Ball to the already heady mix of David and Andrew: joyous hot carbonation bubbles away.

May your happiness increase!

“FUTURISTIC RHYTHMS: IMAGINING THE LATER BIX BEIDERBECKE,” by ANDY SCHUMM AND HIS SINK-O-PATORS”

Even to the casual viewer, this CD, just out on Rivermont Records, is immediately enticing.  For one thing, and it cannot be undervalued, it has The Name on its cover — the dear boy from Iowa.  Catnip to many.  Then, Joe Busam’s lovely funny cover, perfectly evoking Jim Flora’s work — as well as presenting a band led by the splendid Andy Schumm.  It also (in that band name) has an inside joke for the cognoscenti, who turn hot and cold on request.  Some will delight in the concept, jazz time-travel, brought to us by the erudite Julio Schwarz Andrade, imagining what Bix would have played in a variety of contexts had he lived longer.  The conceit does nothing for me (I think the dead have the right to be left alone, not dressed up for Halloween) but I love the music, thrilling in its ease and subtlety.

Hearing Andy Schumm, cornet; Ewan Bleach, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums — now, that’s a rare pleasure.  You can see the song titles below, and the Musical Offering is neatly divided between a scattering of familiar tunes and some deeply lyrical ones that have become obscure.  (I hadn’t heard THINGS and OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY before, and WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE is memorable to me only because of a wondrous recording by Spike Mackintosh.)  The first ten songs were meant to be the official recording session, with the last two — hot “warm-up” performances added as a delightful bonus: we’re lucky the recording equipment was switched on.

Back to the music.  There are lovely little touches.  MOTEN SWING uses the riffs from the 1932 Victor recording, and the lyrical numbers still retain the slight bounce one would have heard in Thirties “rhythm ballads.”  Indeed, the whole session has the delightful motion of, perhaps, a Marty Grosz session from the end of the previous century.  This, of course, is helped along considerably by the wonderful Martin Wheatley — hear him on RAIN and elsewhere.  The CD also reminded me most happily of sessions by Marty and by Ruby Braff because of the cheering variety of approaches within each performance.  I offer the rubato Oliver-Schumm verse to  THE NEARNESS OF YOU as a heartening example, followed by a poignant Bleach tenor solo.  There’s none of the usual tedium that results from a surfeit of ensemble-solos-ensemble.  (I think of certain live sessions in the Seventies I attended where after the requisite single ensemble chorus, the clarinet always took the first solo.  Routine of this sort has a chilling effect.)

The members of the rhythm section, Messrs. Oliver, Wheatley, and Ball, add their own special bounce to the music.  I know Andrew Oliver these days as a Mortonist and have known Nick Ball as a scholar of pre-Swing drumming, but they aren’t antique in any way.  And the two Wheatleys, father and son, are a wonderful team: the right notes in the right places.  As fine as Andy and Ewan are, one could listen to any track on this disc solely to revel in, and learn from, this rhythm team.  As an example, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY.

Ewan Bleach is new to me and delightful: his work on either horn is floating and supple, and I never felt he was reaching for a particular phrase that someone had recorded eighty years ago.  His solos have their own lithe charm and his ensemble playing is the great work of an intuitive conversationalist who knows when to add a few notes and when to be still.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that I’d already admired his work with the Basin Street Brawlers.  I hope the reaction to this CD is such that Mr. Bleach gets a chance to record a horn-with-rhythm session of his own.

And Andy Schumm.  Yes.  I just heard him in person in my Wisconsin jaunt, and he hasn’t ceased to amaze and please, whether leaping in to his solo, playing a wistful coda, or lyrically purling his way through one of the rhythm ballads I’ve mentioned above.  To my ears — here comes another heresy — he isn’t Bix, nor is he the reincarnation of Bix.  He is Andy Schumm, and that’s a wonderful thing, with its own joyous surprises.

Buy it here.  I did.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

A MORTONIAN PARADISE, PLUS (ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW): A BLOG, TWO VIDEOS, and an e-78, TOO.

When I go to my computer in the morning — a twenty-first century act as natural to us as making a fire in the stove for breakfast must have been years ago — and I see that the Complete Morton Project (a/k/a Andrew Oliver at the piano and David Horniblow at the clarinet, bass clarinet, or alto saxophone) has been at it again while I have been sleeping or attempting to grade student essays, my first feeling is pride — pride that I am living in a world where such beauty is being regularly given to us for free.  Of course, my second thought is, “Oh, no!  I’m falling behind!”  But David and Andrew have been very forgiving, and I have received no lowered grades for tardiness.  And they offer their creations open-handedly and open-heartedly.

Here is the aptly named PEP:

and the NEW ORLEANS BUMP, which should induce dancing everywhere.

I especially like David’s growly evocation of Cecil Scott and other “dirty” clarinetists — the world as it was before Benny smoothed everything out:

There’s more information and music here on Andrew’s blog — which also shows off the considerable talents of the Vitality Five and the Dime Notes — and you can subscribe to these weekly YouTube bouquets of sound here.  And (while I was tidying up the kitchen) the Vitality Five issued their February 2018 e-78: details here.

How will I keep up?  I don’t know.  But it’s a delightful struggle for sure.

May your happiness increase!

SWAT THE DIRT: DAVID HORNIBLOW / ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON (and an e-78 as well!)

As the Silvercup bread sign used to say, radiant in the night sky, BAKED WHILE YOU SLEEP.  Or SWUNG WHILE YOU REST.  Whatever: those men are here again, David Horniblow, clarinet and bass clarinet; Andrew Oliver, piano — for their and our weekly benevolence of Jelly Roll Morton.

That Tinge again . . . sensuous and undulating (a composition Jelly only recorded for Allan Lomax at the Library of Congress sessions):

Here’s DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY — a 1940 composition that sounds as if it is going to be very simple and has its own twists and turns.  (I wonder how often it was played on the jukeboxes?)  And the combination of low-register bass clarinet and luminous piano is quite intoxicating:

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here — or enjoy all six offerings with fine commentary on Andrew’s blog here.  Fine music, intelligent compact explications, and inspiring generosity from these two stellar players.

Wait.  You haven’t had enough IRRESISTIBLE JAZZ for the moment?  Look at what The Vitality Five is up to, and you’ll recognize some splendid hot players here as well (David, Andrew, Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, Martin Wheatley):

May your happiness increase!

RICO RINGS THE BELL! (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, November 5, 2016)

Anointed by Louis in 1968, Enrico Tomasso is a glowing force of nature: he never lets us down.  I’ve been able to hear and admire him a few times in Newcastle, England — which is the source of the performance below — but Rico and his charming family (that’s Debbie, his wife, and Analucia, their daughter) also visited New York City for a few delightful days earlier this month.  Thanks to Ricky Riccardi, I was able to be on the scene.  Yes, I had my camera.  More about that soon.

At the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, Rico was one of the stars of a set of orchestral jazz devoted to what was happening in Los Angeles.  And Louis visited the West Coast in 1930, so we had the immense privilege of hearing and seeing Rico play and sing a few of Louis’ great specialties, SHINE, I’M A DING DONG DADDY, and ONE HOUR.  I’d posted the first and last songs already, but thought it wouldn’t bother anyone if they were all here, at once, in their passionate finery.  The band is Keith Nichols, piano; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Claus Jacobi, Richard Exall, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Wheatley, banjo and guitar; Phil Rutherford, bass; Nick Ball, drums.

SHINE:

I’M A DING DONG DADDY:

ONE HOUR:

And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please read this and learn the truth.

Thanks again to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise!

The Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party will take place October 27-29 this year.  I can’t be there and Rico has other commitments, but it will still be great fun.

May your happiness increase!

THANKS TO ENRICO, SOME HOT MINUTES IN ASCONA: KEITH NICHOLS, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, RENE HAGMANN, CHRISTOPH WACKERBARTH, MARTIN WHEATLEY, FRANS SJOSTROM, and guests ANDY STEIN, JON-ERIK KELLSO (July 7, 2002)

The dashing fellow above (from a 2009 photograph) is the jazz scholar-devotee Enrico Borsetti. I know him as a fine fellow, although we have never met in person.  His generosity is remarkable, but this is a new example: Enrico’s video-recording of music from the 2002 Ascona Jazz Festival, specifically this wonderful band, the Blue Rhythm Makers.  For this date, they were Keith Nichols, piano and vocal; René Hagmann, cornet, reeds; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Christoph Wackerbarth, trombone; Martin Wheatley, guitar;
Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, with guest appearances by Andy Stein, violin; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. This music was created at the Ristorante Tamaro, Ascona, on Sunday, July 7, 2002.

WHEN DAY IS DONE and POISON:

THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH and I WISH I WERE TWINS:

with guest star Andy Stein, violin, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN:

And the poignant I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

ONE HOUR (Keith sings the lovely verse):

Jon-Erik raises the temperature, even for July, with a rousing SWING THAT MUSIC:

and Andy returns to close the first half of this performance with THAT’S A PLENTY, certainly an accurate description of these wonderful videos.

(Incidentally, I am pleased and amused to note that Enrico’s world is much like mine in the matter of videos: umbrellas and people with cameras obscuring the view, crashing dishes and more — but the sound blazes right at us, and these videos are true gifts.) Here‘s Enrico’s YouTube channel, where all varieties of beauties blossom.

May your happiness increase!

THE LIFE-FORCE, SCORED FOR FIVE MUSICIANS

Some phenomena are so strong or so evident that they make commentary superfluous.  You don’t need The Weather Channel to tell you when it’s snowing, and you don’t need me to explain the next three brief video performances. However, if you plan to watch them on your phone, beware, because the energy contained here might blow your SIM card across the room.

For those who desire explication, there are credits at the end of each video.  (The videos themselves are gorgeous: usually I find most multi-camera shoots more jumpy than required, but here, all praise to the videographers.)

THAT’S NO BARGAIN:

VOODOO:

HIGH FEVER:

Not that there isn’t a place for loose and long renditions of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES in my world, but this band and these performances are very cheering alternatives to much of what is offered as pre-World War Two hot music.

For those who thrive on data, here is the relevant YouTube channel, and here is the band’s website (in all its permutations).  This is the band’s gig schedule for July and August — unfortunately for me, somewhat distant from New York, but perhaps we shall rendez-vous sometime.  And here is what I wrote about the band’s debut CD.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bundle up my computer and take it to Byron and Henry, my very trusted repair-wizards.  It began to tremble during the final video, and that worries me.

May your happiness increase!

TWO GUITARS IN THE DARK (MARTIN WHEATLEY / SPATS LANGHAM at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 6, 2016)

spats-wheatley-2012

Guitarists Thomas “Spats” Langham and Martin Wheatley are two of the warmest people and finest creative musicians I’ve ever met.  In the accompanying photograph, they are appearing at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — the guitars they are playing are not the ones they brought later on; the video performances that follow come from the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

Two guitars, trading solo and accompaniment, and Spats’ remarkable singing — especially on two ballads I’d never known.  Spats introduces each performance, so I will leave the commentary to him.  And unlike other guitar extravaganzas, this delightful interlude is about music rather than sparkling displays of virtuosity — although any guitarist will tell you that the simplest-appearing passage here is the result of experience, taste, and long years of practice and performance.  About Spats’ singing, I will only say that he is one of my favorites among the living and the departed: especially on ballads.

Before you launch into this assortment of pleasures, know that the videos are less than superb: I was stationed in an unusual spot, holding my camera in mid-air, and one of the patrons had run over my foot with his electric scooter, twice, once forward and once in reverse (annoying but not crippling).  So those factors must be accounted for. But I think that these two artists are worth the inconvenience, and much more.

I think they’re wonderful:

and an absolutely gorgeous love song, new to me:

and a tribute to Irving Berlin, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough:

and yet another lovely surprise, this wistful Ivor Novello composition:

and a Victor Young movie theme, with romping variations:

I have it on reasonably good authority that Martin and Spats are planning a duo CD.  I can’t wait.

May your happiness increase!

“I’D LOVE YOU STRONG”: ENRICO TOMASSO PLAYS LOUIS (Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, November 5, 2016)

one-hour-louis

Today is the day after Valentine’s Day, but we know that romance does not stop when February 14 ends.  Call it what you will, the light of love or the light of Louis or both, but they shine through Enrico Tomasso.  Here, Rico plays and sings his own version of Louis’ 1930 classic at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (on November 5, 2016) accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.

I suppose it took and takes a particularly sensitized listener to understand the depths of Louis’ romantic passion, playing or singing.  Even Mezz Mezzrow, Louis’ great champion, said in his autobiography that the jukebox owners in Harlem had their machines full of Louis’ records, but that they had to have a few others because not everyone heard Louis so deeply.  But Rico does, and conveys that enthusiastic passionate energy, both singing and playing.  The only thing missing here is Vic Dickenson’s visual joke — holding up TWO fingers while singing about “one hour tonight.”  Sixty minutes is just too brief an interval to love someone effectively.

As is often the case, many thanks to Eric Devine for invaluable technical expertise — Eric is “CineDevine,” an expert videographer and a good fellow.

May your happiness increase!

JELLY ROLL MARTIN: LITTON PLAYS MORTON at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

litton

I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much Morton, especially when it’s played as expertly as this — and from some unusual corners of the canon.  Here are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Robert Fowler, reeds; Martin Litton, piano, transcriptions, arrangements; Martin Wheatley, banjo, guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nick Ball, drums, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 4, 2016. “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” is at the foundation — these performances never rush or shout — but there is a good deal of rollicking energy here.  No doubt.

TRY ME OUT:

DEEP CREEK:

GAMBLING JACK:

ELITE SYNCOPATIONS:

May your happiness increase!

HAIL, ENRICO!

No disrespect to the other musicians, but my focus is on the name at top left: ENRICO TOMASSO: majestic, determined, hilarious, tender, indefatigable, joyous.

2016-rico

And here’s The Man Himself, in two performances from the November 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, one hot, the other sweet and hot.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

From November 4, 2016, a tribute to Mike Durham, the much-missed founder of what is now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, the venerable EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, performed by Rico with Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Spats Langham, banjo / vocal; Phil Rutherford, sousaphone; Richard Pite, drums; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; Alistair Allan, trombone. And here is Rico’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN from the same set.

And a day later, Enrico honoring Louis, singing and playing IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT:

Here, Rico is accompanied by Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.  And for those hoboes who missed the train, here is Rico’s SHINE from the same set.

Mr. Tomasso is our hero.

This post would not have been possible without Eric Devine’s generous technical expertise.  (Eric is “Cine Devine” on Facebook and a world-class videographer.)

May your happiness increase!

LOUIS SHINES THROUGH HIM: THE GLORY OF ENRICO TOMASSO at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 5, 2016)

When I first met the trumpeter / vocalist Enrico Tomasso at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party a few years ago, I was stunned by the warmth and energy of the man and the beauty of his music.  I rather timidly came up to him in the pub and introduced myself, received a big grin, and said, “The light of Louis shines right through you,” which pleased him.  Rico proved that once again at the 2016 Party.

But first, a bit of history: Rico, at seven, having played trumpet for Louis at the Leeds airport in 1968.  Note Louis’s inscription: THE KISS OF JOY.

rico-and-louis-kiss-of-joy

The sounds of joy were in the air at the Party on Saturday, November 5, 2016, when Rico performed several Louis features from 1930 . . . miraculously, in front of us, with fine support from Keith Nichols, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Claus Jacobi, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Emma Fisk, Martin Wheatley, Phil Rutherford, Nick Ball.

Extraordinary, no?  And it’s not simply the virtuosity.  Rico sends a glowing message of loving exuberance to everyone.

And should you fall into the trap of reflexively assuming that any song called SHINE must be racist, please visit this 2012 shine-reconsidered and learn the truth.

Many thanks to Eric Devine (“CineDevine”) for kind and invaluable technical expertise.

May your happiness increase!

ÉLAN VITAL: THE VITALITY 5 ROCKS!

vitality-5

The VITALITY FIVE (and its band-within-a-band, the VITALITY THREE) are the real thing, and the quintet has released its debut CD, which is a complete delight.  They are a hot jazz band; their performances marry ferocious energy and precise delicacy.

Drum roll, please?

THE FAMOUS “VITALITY FIVE” JAZZ BAND of London.
Featuring internationally-renowned Syncopators from three corners of the globe :

Mr. MICHAEL McQUAID : Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Trumpet.
Mr. DAVID HORNIBLOW : Bass Saxophone & Clarinet.
Mr. MARTIN WHEATLEY : Banjo & Guitar.
Mr. ANDREW OLIVER : Pianoforte.
Mr. NICHOLAS D. BALL : Drums & Percussion.

I know three of these Syncopators in person and will vouch for their Credentials of Hot.  Their biographies can be found here.

But mere words have their limitations, so here is audio-visual evidence:

and a Morton trio:

and some Nichols-Mole-Livingston-Berton modernism:

The repertoire on this CD says a great deal about the players and their overall conception.  Familiar hot tunes: EAST COAST TROT, MOJO STRUT, SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME, WA WA WA — and the less familiar MOTEN STOMP, KANSAS CITY BREAKDOWN (both early Bennie Moten), CLARINETITIS (another Benny), STEAMBOAT STOMP (Boyd Senter), DIXIE (Adrian Rollini, for his wife), the pop tune IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW, and the never-played DESDEMONA, BLACK RAG, REVERIE, RETOUR AU PAYS, suggesting a deep immersion and erudition about this period of music.  Although the credits say “transcriptions,” it’s easy to see that when you “transcribe” WA WA WA or SMOKE-HOUSE BLUES for this singular ensemble, it is much more a transformation.  And it’s thus a lively reimagining.  JAZZ LIVES viewers with memories will know Michael McQuaid, Nicholas Ball, and Martin Wheatley as peerless musicians; I assure that David Horniblow and Andrew Oliver are nothing short of spectacular.  In fact, the entire ensemble has an appealing looseness precisely because they are honoring the originals and the originators without striving to provide copies of the records.  So this is hot jazz of the middle Twenties that is also aware that it is no longer 1926, which is fine with me.

All I know is that it took an act of will to pry the disc out of the player.  The band’s website is here.  To purchase the CD, visit here.  I can assure you that this quintet superbly lives up to the band’s name.

And thanks to Julio Schwarz Andrade, of course.

May your happiness increase!