Since I am old-fashioned and like my recorded music in tangible form (no liner notes on a mp3 download) I surround myself with compact discs in arrangements both vertical and horizontal. However, this post is not about Jazz Decor, but to celebrate three new discs that readers should know about. And, even better, they are performances by living musicians, people you could actually see and hear in person.
The first is CHASING SHADOWS, by “Spats and his Rhythm Boys.” (WVR 1005) “Spats,” of course, is singer / plectrist Spats Langham, who’s appeared on this site in a video clip. On this disc, he’s accompanied by trumpeter Mike Durham, trombonist Paul Munnery, reed wizard Norman Field, Keith Nichols on piano and accordion, John Carstairs Hallam, string bass, Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, Nick Ward, drums, and Mike Piggott, violin. The sessions were recorded in November 2008, and a glance at the tune listing will tell all: Spats and friends are thoroughly steeped in the “hot jazz with vocal refrain” of the late Twenties, extended forward into the late Thirties (from Cliff Edwards and Bing Crosby to Jimmy Rushing and Putney Dandridge): CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE / CHASING SHADOWS / I’M IN THE SEVENTH HEAVEN / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS / HANG ON TO ME / ME AND THE MOON / ACCORDION JOE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / BROWN BOTTLE BLUES / WHAT DO I CARE WHAT SOMEBODY SAID? / HALFWAY TO HEAVEN / SMILIN’ SAM / OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / YOU DO THE DARNEDEST THINGS, BABY / SWING BRIDGE STOMP.
Like Barbara Rosene and a very few other singers, Spats isn’t trying to offer CD-quality imitations of the original recordings. Rather, he gets inside the idiom, so that you hear the sound of the period, the rhythmic energy, the delicate ornamentations — but it’s all new. And hugely entertaining! He has a light tenor voice, but he has listened thoroughly to Crosby and post-Crosby as well. On this disc, his singing is thoroughly integrated into a hot improvising ensemble. I would have wanted this CD because of Sjostrom, Field, Nichols, and Ward — but the best surprise is the playing of trumpeter Mike Durham. Many trumpeters are in love with the sheer power of their instrument; they shout and carry on. Mike can, of course, do this capably — leading an ensemble majestically. But his more usual mode of expression is tender, inquiring, almost pleading. You need to hear him if you haven’t already! And his composition SMILIN’ SAM (dedicated to his happy grandson) is a wonderful mood piece with Norman Field on bass clarinet — instantly memorable.
For information about ordering this CD, visit http://firstname.lastname@example.org/wjrk/recordings.htm. By email, contact email@example.com., or (the old-fashioned way) write to WVR Records at 60 Highbury, Newcatle upon Tyne, NE2 2LN.
I’ve been listening to pianist Ray Skjelbred and drummer Hal Smith for some time in a variety of settings — Ray, playing Frank Melrose songs or cowboy ballads, Hal, rocking every band he’s ever been with. Ray’s new CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO (Jazzology Records, recorded August 2008), is a real winner, featuring delectable hot jazz from Ray, Hal, clarinetist Kim Cusack, guitarist Katie Cavera, and Clint Baker on a variety of songs, familiar and rare, each one with deep associations: OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY “MAYBE”) / SUGAR / MY GALVESTON GAL / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / BULL FROG BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / IDOLIZING / I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS / FRIARS POINT SHUFFLE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / SHANGHAI HONEYMOON / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / UP A LAZY RIVER / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / AM I BLUE? / LAUGHING AT YOU / RING DEM BELLS. This group knows how, through long playing experience, to approach each song on its own terms — wistful or fiery — and the down-home vocals by each member of the quintet are charming. I have a special fondness for the repertoire of the early Red Allen Vocalions, and my hunger has been satisfied by this band’s versions of MY GALVESTON GAL and I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS. (But it sure sounds good to me!) This one’s available through Jazzology and perhaps other places online: for information, visit http://www.jazzology.com/index.php.
Finally, a sentimental favorite. When I encountered guitarist / singer / multi-instrumentalist John Gill in a club in 2007, he casually told me that he was planning to record a tribute to Bing Crosby, focusing on the dreamy (and often swinging) repertoire of 1931-35. As politely as I could, I beseeched John to let me be part of this project: Crosby is one of my heroes, and that period of Crosbyana is a consistent delight. John, most graciously, invited me to the sessions and I ended up writing the notes for the CD, which was immensely rewarding. The performances on this disc are sweet evocations with a pulsing jazz heart — accompaniment and solos by Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet and trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar and banjo), Orange Kellin, Dan Levinson, Marc Phaneuf (reeds), Conal Fowkes (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums), Brian Nalepka (bass and tuba), Andy Stein, Matt Szemela (violins). The songs are beautiful and well-chosen: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / HAPPY-GO-LUCKY YOU / A FADED SUMMER LOVE / STAR DUST / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / IF I HAD YOU / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / STREET OF DREAMS / BABY – OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SWEET LEILANI – BLUE HAWAII / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MUDDY WATER / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / PLEASE / WERE YOU SINCERE? / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOW-DOWN / RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET / WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / LEARN TO CROON / OUT OF NOWHERE.
I managed to make two of the three sessions, and when I walked into the first one and the band was running through DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — well, I was transported. John’s vocals are touching; the band is sensitive and danceable; the session is a priceless tribute. The CD is available at a variety of online sources (Jazz By Mail, Worlds Records) but the nicest thing would be to buy a copy directly from John himself at a New York gig. He’ll be happy to sign it, too. (And he has enough material for another volume or two: I hope to hear him record RIDIN’ ROUND IN THE RAIN someday.)
P.S. I know all about the economy, and if your restaurant has closed or you are looking for work, I apologize for suggesting that you buy things that are perhaps less essential than coffee or shoes. But if you’re managing to limp along with some degree of optimism, if you’ve decided that your aging car can hold out another year or that you don’t really need a new suit to go with the others in the closet, then you might consider one or all of these new CDs. For less than the cost of a prix-fixe dinner, they lift the spirits.