Tag Archives: Michael McQuaid

JOHN SCURRY’S SINGULAR VIGNETTES: REVERSE SWING: “POST-MATINEE”

You might not have heard of the splendid musician John Scurry, but that can be remedied right away.  Here’s a whimsical, swinging sample — elating even if you are allergic to cats:

John and I have a long yet intermittent musical friendship.  I know I heard him on a variety of Australian jazz recordings with, among others, Allan Browne and Bob Barnard, but we did not meet in person until July 2010 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, where he performed as part of Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys, captured here with John on banjo, playing that often abused instrument with grace.  In time, I began to hear John as a guitarist but even more importantly as a composer.  And I heard tales of his small ingenious band, REVERSE SWING, which I described here.  I’d not heard the band, but John’s explanation of the title (enclosed in the post above) made me an enthusiast, taking it on faith.

As a serious but relevant digression, John is also a lyrical painter and photographer, imbuing “common” objects with resonance that makes me think of the painter Giorgio Morandi.  The cover is his, and when you purchase the disc, the photographs inside are his also.

In 2011, John — along with Andy Schumm, Jason Downes, Josh Duffee, Leigh Barker, and Michael McQuaid, was part of the Hot Jazz Alliance: they gave concerts and toured in 2014 and 2015.  I saw them at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the latter year and followed John and a larger ensemble led by Josh to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania — Chauncey Morehouse’s home town — for a concert of Morehouse / Goldkette music.  In the lobby of John’s hotel, we had a long conversation, and I believe he said a REVERSE SWING disc was in process and I (perhaps not subtly) offered my services as a pro bono liner-note writer.  (I’d done the same for the HJA disc.)

And so it came to pass . . . that I heard REVERSE SWING, and was captivated by it.  The seventeen compositions on the disc are all John’s, varied in mood and approach: the CD feels like a leisurely sweep through a hall of evocative paintings.  Or a slim volume of short stories.  It’s not a “trad” band nor a post-bop ensemble — the performances swing — but a group that draws on a tradition of improvising over strong, sometimes quirky melodies and surprising harmonies.

The basic personnel is Eugene Ball, trumpet; Michael McQuaid, clarinet, alto saxophone; Matt Boden, piano; Howard Cairns, string bass, concertina; John Scurry, guitar — with additional cameos by Shelley Scown, vocal; Danny Fischer, drums; James Macaulay, trombone; Phil Noy, alto saxophone.

I know that the combination, for some more staid listeners, of original compositions and a band of less well-known musicians might be slightly intimidating, but we all have sufficient shelf space devoted to Our Favorite and Sometimes Predictable Bands . . . REVERSE SWING well deserves your attention.

Here are my notes:

In A VISION, Yeats wrote that the spirits visited him “to give him metaphors for poetry.” For inspiration, all I can claim is Facebook, where, a few hours before this disc arrived I had seen a famous Mississippi restaurant, The Dinner Bell, with a round table, seating twenty, two dozen entrees on its rotating center. As I listened to REVERSE SWING, I thought of diners moving from one serving dish to another, each one different in content, texture, seasoning, all harmonizing memorably.

A didactic annotator could fill pages saying what this track Sounds Like and what band / musician he Is Reminded Of, but I will leave such fetishes to those who cannot find pleasure without them. Scurry’s music, although irresistibly swinging, is MUSIC first, jazz second: melodic, surprising but inevitable (to steal from Whitney Balliett) with its bright eyes on us, sometimes teary, sometimes winking, even tenderly sleepy. I imagine a dance programme ranging from uptown funk to pastoralia, or soundtrack music for a never-seen Dennis Potter project.

Of John’s light-hearted but distincitve compositional art I can write only that I kept smiling and saying to myself, “Look what he’s doing THERE!” Each song is complete and shapely: a painting or photograph in itself, which is apt. I am also thrilled to hear so much of his guitar playing out in the open, concise yet emotive in solo, prancing in ensemble. Of the other players I write, as would Louis, that they are Topmen On Their Instruments, masters of Tonation and Phrasing. I’d never heard Shelley Scown sing before, but I bow low before her sweet elegance.

Alec Wilder would have admired this; Ellington, too. I want a second and third volume.

Now, something from the Uncollected Scurry-Steinman Correspondence.  I’d asked John — so that I could understand the musical scenes better — where the compositions came from, and he wrote me this.  Its length is my doing, not his immodesty, because I frankly badgered him to tell me everything, because I find the artist’s motivations fascinating — and how often do we have the artist ready to tell all through a series of emails?

“This CD is a selection of tunes of mine written over some years and conceived specifically for this recording. I can liken it to having an exhibition of paintings wherein there is no articulated concept or theme at play, rather a gathering of works that hopefully cohabit together and make sense musically. Most of the pieces were kept relatively short so as to state them as tunes in their various guises and feels and not as extensive flights of improvisation. Part of the joy in producing this body of works was in having the privilege of playing with my fellow musician friends developing and coaxing these melodies into life as new presences. Some have been recorded previously such as “Yes’” and “By practised Skill”. These two, put to music from two poems by Dashiell Hammett written in 1927 (from memory) with the words and poetic form fitting well in 32 bar and 24 bar formats common to the period. With the song “How Calm the Sea is Tonight,” when I put it together melodically and with the words, my original thought was to use Shelley Scown to sing it. I had imagined her singing for several years before actually meeting her. She made a wonderful recording called “Angel” with Paul Grabowsky and the late Allan Browne and Gary Costello respectively. Her voice had a lilting purity that I thought would embody the song. The song I developed verbatim from the last paragraph of a brief magazine story told by a woman reflecting on her life in a whaling town in southern New South Wales. Hence its folk ballad sense. The melody was originally created as a sound backdrop for a short animation. I finally met Shelley last year at a memorial concert for my old comrade Allan Browne where we were both performing and the circle was completed. Shelley’s other vocal,”Your Face”, I fess up to the words. In the spirit of all those who have gone before, another song about longing and the tactility of memory.

“Virology” was conceived for the band “Virus” that I played with regularly for many years. Strangely we never played this tune. Some of the tunes have personal connections such as “A Walk Around Tom” which is for my oldest brother who sadly has severe short term memory recall. A big jazz aficionado in his day with what he referred to as progressive jazz and, like my immediate next brother, a huge influence. “Post Matinee” for me has cinematic overtones. Sometimes meaning in a non literal way evolves out of the process of connecting time signatures and chord structures. My first paid employment, albeit brief, was as a ten year old theatre attendant selling screen news magazines at our local theatre. The theatre is long defunct but maintains its physical presence as an apartment block in Windsor, Melbourne. Going to the Saturday matinee every week was like church. A few years back I made a small painting of the then ex Windsor Theatre and called it “Post Matinee”.

Two more with poetry connections. “ Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines” is by Pablo Neruda. The first seven words of the opening stanza are enough to create the feel and melodic context for the resultant song. “Last Trams” is titled after the poem by Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. Originally, from memory, I think I was playing around with the changes to “Baby Won”t You Please Come Home”.

Some fauna related pieces. “Otis the Cat” is not the guy you are sharing a cell with; he is my dear friend of eighteen years, our cat Otis. Unbridled sentimentality to the fore. “A Blackbird Skipped Quivering Between Things” Yes, I know. Behind every title is a story. Oddly enough titles emanate from the spirit of the work. We are visited daily by a blackbird family in search of morsels of cat food. They stop and start skipping across grass and verandah and at a pinch have the odd quiver. I came across a lovely quote by a French art critic who was lauding the paintings of Berthe Morisot, Manet’s sister, and he stated with reference to the light in her paintings that there was “a quivering between things”. Hence my theft which seemed apt at the time. A little waltz with an inadvertent homage to American folk traditions, as our music from my first memories is a great melting pot of American popular song plus a smattering of British music hall and folk song, not to forget the centrality of hymns. “Sad Songs” is a tune without words which it almost demands. It started off as “Sad songs and bad songs,” a would be letter to a recently deceased musical friend, reassuring him as to his boy’s welfare, but somehow it turned into a sort of optimistic cowboy song. They can assert themselves with a life of their own, these songs.

The last piece I shall comment on is “Thomas and Green,” named for the street corner where I grew up. My first encounter with live music was not “Honey Hush” or “Buttons and Bows” that blared regularly on the radio, but the mellifluous sounds of tenor horns and cornets from the Salvation Band that would appear of a Sunday evening on that corner. Howard Cairns grew up in a Salvo family, his dad being a Major in it. Howard inherited his father’s concertina so we conceived honouring that connection in the chorale “Thomas and Green” as a coda to the album.”

Here the wise and curious listener can hear more, purchase a disc or a download.  I recommend all these actions.  REVERSE SWING is quietly, subversively remarkable.

May your happiness increase!

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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!

“DIASPORA”: MICHAEL McQUAID, ANDREW OLIVER, NICHOLAS D. BALL

A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment, entertaining friends (one of them the fine guitarist Larry Scala) and I was playing 78s for them.  After a particularly delightful performance, which may have been the Keynote I WANT TO BE HAPPY with Roy, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas, or 46 WEST 52 with Chu Berry, Roy, and Sidney Catlett, I turned to them and quietly said, “Music like this is why some bands that everyone else goes wild about do not appeal to me.  I’ve been spoiled by the best.”

But there are glorious exceptions to my assessment of the present.  One of the shining musicians of this century is  Michael McQuaid — heard on a variety of reeds and cornet, even possibly breaking in to song when it seems right.  I first heard him live in 2010 and admired him powerfully, and although our paths don’t cross often (we meet every few years, not only in Newcastle but also in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in New York City) he remains a model to me of what can be created within and without those venerable musics.  (Full disclosure: he quotes from JAZZ LIVES on his blog, but I simply take that as evidence of his good taste in literature.)

Michael, informally

If you’d like to read a brief biography of Michael, you can do just that here, but I will offer three salient facts: he is Australian by birth; he has been playing professionally for twenty years even though he is a mere 35; he and the lovely Ms. Anna Lyttle will take up residence in London in November 2017.

Michael, feeling the spirit

His newest CD, DIASPORA, is an exceptional pleasure.  It’s a trio CD — Michael’s first as a leader in this format — where he is nobly paired with pianist Andrew Oliver and percussionist Nicholas D. Ball.  When you click on the title above, you can hear selections from the disc, and if so moved, then purchase it from Bandcamp or CDBaby.

But enough commerce.  I’ve found it daunting to review this CD in a hurry, not, I assure you, because I had to dig for adjectives, but because each performance — none of them longer than a 12″ 78 — is so dense with sensation, feeling, and music, that I feel gloriously full and satisfied after each track.  I couldn’t compel myself to listen to this disc, stuffing in track after track at one sitting: too much glorious stuff was going on.  So I promise you that it will not only appeal at the first listening but for many more to come.  Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. are strong personalities but willing to merge their egos into a band, which in itself is a deep reward for us.

The music here is nicely contradictory: comforting but full of surprises, aesthetically familiar but never rote.  “Clarinet, piano, and traps,” as they would have written in 1928, lends itself to all sorts of formulae: the Goodman / Dodds / Noone “tribute” album.  Or, more loosely, “Chicago jazz.”  DIASPORA, it is true, nods affectionately to early Benny, Wingy, Leon, the Halfway House boys, Fats, Bud Jacobsen, Charles LaVere, and others, but it is not a series of copies: it’s as if Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. have made themselves so familiar with the individual songs and the idioms they came from that they are at ease and can thus speak for themselves.  There is so much shining energy in their playing: nothing seems forced or tense.  And although this would be marketed as “hot jazz,” some of the finest moments in this recital are sweet, rueful, tender: Fats’ CHELSEA, for one.

I asked Michael for his thoughts about the CD, especially because there are no liner notes, and he told me that he wanted to let the music speak for itself, and that DIASPORA has been on his mind for some time: “I wanted to do a project featuring my OWN playing rather than a larger group with a more democratic purpose. I also wanted to record in a very good studio, because I think the clarinet is rarely recorded well . . . it’s just me and my Albert system clarinet! And my colleagues, of course.”  [Note from Michael: the recorded sound is superbly natural.]

The songs Michael chose are admiring homages to various clarinetists without imitating them.  “For instance, ‘Do Something’ was imagined as a hypothetical Don Murray/Arthur Schutt/Vic Berton collaboration; ‘Tiger Rag’ asks ‘what if Rappolo and Jelly Roll made a trio side?’.”

I’d asked Michael about his original compositions.  “‘Black Spur’ takes its name from a treacherous mountain road to the north east of Melbourne, while ‘Diaspora’ is a Beguine/Jazz mix, paying tribute to the musical styles (and peoples) scattered widely throughout the world by the time of the 1920s/30s.  Of course, there’s a link there to the album title as well; an Australian, playing music of American origin (broadly speaking) with an American and a Briton, recorded and mixed in London and mastered in Helsinki!”

I hope all my readers take the opportunity to hear DIASPORA: it’s music that travels well.

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!

MORE SEAGOONERY, BY POPULAR REQUEST (MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 8, 2015)

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE

Several audience members and a musician-friend wrote in after yesterday’s post featuring Keith Nichols and the Seagoon Serenaders, asking if I would post more.  Happy to oblige!

Here you can find out more about Keith’s inspiration, THE  GOON SHOW, a radio series from 1951-60.

The Serenaders are Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet). Dance music of the highest order.

The first song of the set is the old Chicago standard, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with an explanation of the group’s inspiration by Keith as well as a vocal:

IF I GIVE UP THE SAXOPHONE (WILL YOU COME BACK TO ME?) was a hit for Eddie Cantor in the 1929 film WHOOPEE — written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain, and Willie Raskin.  I suspect that the song is an outgrowth of the instrument’s popularity early in the decade and the large number of amateur players:

I don’t know how much Goonery there will be at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (November 3-6) but there will be some.  Musicians are often great comic improvisers, and they honor the guiding spirit of the party: Mike was both witty, sometimes dangerously so, and he had a stockpile of jokes that was astonishing.

See you there.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MOOCHE”: THE SEAGOON SERENADERS at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 8, 2015)

MOOCHE

What happens when vestiges of THE GOON SHOW meet early jazz, under the benignly unsettling leadership of Keith Nichols?  I present a brilliant example below.  Keith’s presentation, mixing satire and Hot, was called THE SEAGOON SERENADERS, and it came alive at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 8, 2015:

Once when we get past the hilarity, the Serenaders launch into a very delightful performance of Ellington’s THE MOOCHE (named, I am told, for a contemporary dance), complete with clarinet trio and hot cornet chorus.  That’s Keith, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Malcolm Sked, bass; Lars Frank, Thomas Winteler, Michael McQuaid, reeds (Michael doubling cornet on this performance).  Dance music of the highest order.

A nice mixture of hot jazz, occasionally leavened with comedy, can be found this November 3-6.  Details here.

May your happiness increase!

HOMAGE TO HUGHES: MENNO DAAMS and his ORCHESTRA at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2015)

Before there was any discussion of “Third Stream Music,” jazz and classical shaking hands congenially, before Gil Evans or Gunther Schuller, there was Patrick “Spike” Hughes — British writer, composer, bassist — who visited the United States in 1933 for a memorable series of recordings that used the Benny Carter orchestra with guest stars Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins.

SPIKE HUGHES

John Wright’s wonderfully detailed (and lively) biographical sketch of Spike can be found here.

FIREBIRD

Many of us have marveled at Spike’s 1933 recordings, which blend European compositional ideas with hot solos.  But it waited until 2015 for someone to put together an expert jazz orchestra to play transcriptions of those sides.  That someone is the magnificently talented Menno Daams.  (Bent Persson, Menno’s diligent trumpet colleague, also transcribed the Red Allen solos — as arduous as task as one could imagine).

ARABESQUE

This orchestra offered its tribute to Spike’s 1933 music at the November 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I was fortunate enough to be sitting in front of this eloquent band.  Here are seven performances from this set: notice the shifting textures behind the soloists, and the soloists themselves.  If these compositions are new to you, notice their charming and surprising mixture of 1933 hot dance music, fervent soloing, and advanced harmonies: before we are a whole chorus into NOCTURNE, for example, we have the sense of a landscape both familiar and unsettling — even when absorbing this music in 2016.  There’s beautiful lyricism and a rocking 4/4 beat, but it’s as if, while you slept, someone has painted the walls of your living room different colors and nailed the kitchen cutlery to the ceiling.

I salute Menno for bringing this modernistic music to us, and the band for rendering it so superbly.  They are: Menno Daams, cornet; Bent Persson, Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Michael McQuaid, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, Alistair Allan, Graham Hughes, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, guitar / vocal; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

NOCTURNE:

AIR IN D FLAT:

SWEET SORROW BLUES:

FIREBIRD:

ARABESQUE:

DONEGAL CRADLE SONG:

SOMEONE STOLE GABRIEL’S  HORN (vocal Spats):

A personal note: I first heard the Spike Hughes sides in 1972, and they struck me as beautifully ambitious music.  The impression hasn’t faded.  But viewing and re-hearing Menno’s precise, swinging transcriptions and the band’s playing, I heard aspects of the music I’d not heard before, and even the listener new to this can find a thousand delights that grow more pleasing each time.  I think this set a magnificent accomplishment.  Only at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party could such marvelous undertakings find a home and an appreciative audience.  Join me there this November.

May your happiness increase!