Tag Archives: New Orleans Night Owls

“MESSIN’ AROUND”: HAL SMITH’S NEW ORLEANS NIGHT OWLS

Some new wonderful sounds for you here.

You could fall over yourself trying to name the little box this music “should” fit into: contemporary trad? homage to the New Orleans Revival? even the dreaded D-word.

I call it sincere hot music with a pulsing heart.

I’ve been following drummer-leader Hal Smith for some years now, and I am not alone in thinking that his name on a new issue is a guarantee of solid rhythm, capacious imagination, an attention to the past that links it solidly to the glory of living musicians doing what they do best. A student of jazz percussion could find a lifetime of lessons in the playing of Professor Smith; someone wanting to play in or lead a band — an ensemble with depth, light and shade — could study at the Smith Institute with equally rewarding results.

For MESSIN’ AROUND, Hal has gathered kindred spirits. And although these are “remote” recordings (created in summer 2022), they are anything but emotionally remote. The fine musicians are T.J. Muller, cornet, vocals; Dave Bock, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Andrew Oliver, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader — from all over the jazz map. The lovely clear recording, mixing, and editing is by Bill Reinhart.

To this recording, the musicians bring undeniable energy and personality. Although they know the hallowed musicians and recordings at the root of this music, they aren’t merely copying the discs. You hear the shade of the past but it’s vividly and audibly alive. They aren’t “primitives” but they bring a rough eloquence to each track. Dick Wellstood called it “grease and funk,” and it animates this CD.

I’m especially taken with the repertoire. There’s nothing wrong with AS LONG AS I LIVE, ST. LOUIS BLUES, or MUSKRAT RAMBLE, but they push to the head of the line in some bands: let the memorable but less-played songs light up the room!

The New Orleans Night Owls get comfortable with these tunes: MAGNOLIA’S WEDDING DAY / 2:19 BLUES / TING-A-LING / I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD / BOLSA CHICA STRUT / WAIT TILL YOU SEE MY BABY DO THE CHARLESTON / ONLY YOU (AND YOU ALONE) / MESSIN’ AROUND / SWEET LOTUS BLOSSOM / STOCKYARD STRUT //

It’s frisky, unhackneyed music to dance to or to grin to. Explore more here. And as the microgroove-record liner ads used to say, “If you’ve enjoyed this record, you’ll like the first CD by the Owls, EARLY HOURS.

I expect to see Hal and friends at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California (the first weekend in March) but until then, I’ve got my rocking new discs to play.

May your happiness increase!

HOT AND READY! — HAL SMITH’S NEW ORLEANS NIGHT OWLS: “EARLY HOURS”

A new recording by a band led by drummer-historian Hal Smith (a man whose scholarship swings) is a delightful event, and EARLY HOURS is a pleasure.

It’s a bracing shot of lively honest music — although the repertoire has deep roots in New Orleans jazz history of all kinds, the result is anything but dusty archaeology. In the nicest ways, this band leaps right out of the speakers at us.

Here’s a taste — SNOOKUM, a song I associate with the Halfway House Orchestra: https://halsmith.bandcamp.com/track/snookum. That performance is energized, compact, and vivid: good-feeling music!

The details. First, this is a digital issue through Bandcamp (an enterprise worth supporting on its own terms, since musicians have much more control over what happens to their own work and how it is presented).

You can listen and purchase here for the basic price of a large Starbucks concoction, although I hope purchasers will be as generous as the music is.

The players are T.J. Muller, cornet, vocal (4); John Gill, trombone (3, 8), vocal (6); Clint Baker, trombone (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9); Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums/leader.

“You know ’em, you love ’em,” or if you don’t, you will. Hot and ready, as we say.

The repertoire goes deep into New Orleans jazz history as represented on recordings by Sam Morgan, Bunk Johnson, Turk Murphy, the New Orleans Bootblacks, the El Dorado Jazz Band, Ken Colyer, Papa Ray Ronnei, and others: BOGALUSA STRUT, STORYVILLE BLUES, FLAT FOOT, EARLY HOURS, CIRIBIRIBIN, I LOVE MY BABY, SWEET BABY DOLL, YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM, SNOOKUM. (No “trad favorites,” no overworked chestnuts.)

It’s a splendid mixture of blues, romps, and music for dancing, passionate but exact.

Each track has its own distinctive character and eloquent gifts. The solos are eloquent and “native” (listening will make that adjective real to those who know) but, even better, this is a band, where the ensemble unity and collective understanding is the lovely goal. It thus came as a surprise to me that the sessions were done remotely, between November, 2021 and April, 2022. It says so much about the community of jazz that there is not an iota of remoteness to be heard or felt. Bravo!

May your happiness increase!