Nat Hentoff remembered Bobby Hackett saying of Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?” I thought of this immediately upon hearing reed master Ewan Bleach’s new CD, which is all about the deepest arts of melody.
Here is the link to listen, download, and purchase (a few discs have been offered as well).
Here’s what Ewan and guitarist John Kelly do so well — what I’d call the resuscitation of song. SWEET LORRAINE has been played and sung so often that it can have a certain flatness, “Oh, that old thing!” — but here it is so sweet. Part of it comes from what Louis called “tonation and phrasing”: Ewan’s lovely affectionate tone, his thoughtful rubato approach to phrasing:
In this era of harmonic “sophistication” and “innovation,” abrupt rhythms, and more, the idea of lovingly playing the melody is so conservative as to be a radical act. But it didn’t bother Ben Webster, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, or a thousand other heroes — and it is a tradition that deserves to be honored. Ewan is both passionate and controlled (one can hear Bechet in his work, but a slimmed-down, less ego-driven Bechet), and he embodies Lester Young’s terse lyricism as well.
The songs chosen for this disc are well-known but the freshness with which the quartet approaches them brushes off any imagined dust: BODY AND SOUL / DEEP PURPLE / MEMORIES OF YOU / YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC (the source of the CD’s punning title) / PRELUDE TO A KISS / SI TU VOIS MA MERE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / THE NEARNESS OF YOU. Those songs are all “ballads,” with no double-time assertions, but this CD is dreamy rather than soporific, and even the slowest rubato section has a discernible pulse. The performances come out of a loving respect for pure song — verses as well as choruses — where nothing is rushed, there are no special effects aside from the innate wisdom that marries instrument, player, notes, and emotion. Ewan, guitarist John Kelly (and Martin Wheatley on DEEP PURPLE), pianist Colin Good, and string bassist Jim Ydstie put themselves at the service of each song, considering it tenderly and sending its messages to us tenderly and solidly. I should also point out that Ewan honors the majestic Ancestors (Hawkins, Hodges, Carter, Chu) but doesn’t copy their recordings — he sounds like himself, which would get approving nods from the great Shades.
Here is the title song:
It’s a triumph of acoustic music and feeling: one of those CDs I have been returning to. Each improvisation reveals adult ease and patience: there is no irritable restlessness to get to “the next thing” in a hurry. The whole enterprise has an endearing absence of ego — the four musicians are sublime players, but they never seem to be saying, “Look at what I’m doing!” — rather, the consistent philosophy is “Share with me what this song has to offer us,” rare and precious. Some will consider this “old-fashioned” jazz, and it’s true if you measure art by the notion of each decade being an improvement on its predecessor, so Ewan leans more to Charlie Holmes than Charlie Parker, and the ambiance is definitely pre-Bird, but it is all a fond embodiment of music both subtle and deep. (And Bird had a deep melodic core.)
Take time away from the noise of current life — the noise we create inside us and the sounds coming from the street — to immerse yourself in these beauties. They are splendidly rewarding.
May your happiness increase!