Tag Archives: Nicholas D. Ball

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!

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MORTONIC CAPERS: ANDREW OLIVER, DAVID HORNIBLOW, and SURPRISE GUESTS MICHAEL McQUAID and NICHOLAS D. BALL

Two kinds of surprise, one subtle and one cinematic-vaudevillian-theatrical from the Complete Morton Project.  More details here.

First, DIXIE KNOWS — a composition Morton never recorded — played beautifully by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet:

Then, a party!  The Complete Morton Project invited two friends over, increasing the band by 200%: Michael McQuaid on reeds and Nicholas D. Ball on drums and hilarity — for HYENA STOMP:

Should you be tempted to dismiss HYENA STOMP as pure goofiness, listen to Morton’s Library of Congress solo rendition:

Anyone who thinks of Morton as a limited improviser who didn’t swing should be given a fifteen-minute immersion in that performance, which I marvel at.

But HYENA STOMP (in the 1927 Victor version) is elusive in one detail.  I tried to find out about Lew LeMar, who says, “That’s terrible, Jelly!” and then does the laughing — choose your own adjective.  I know there is a tradition of laughter being recorded as part of an act (consider the OKeh LAUGHING RECORD and later, LAUGHIN’ LOUIE) but I can find no information on the exuberant Mr. LeMar.  Even William Russell’s seven-hundred page Morton scrapbook has no entry for him in the index.

And thus I am free to imagine.  Did Jelly and Lew know each other from vaudeville?  Had they met at a theatre or bar, with Jelly saying, “I’ve got a record date in three days and I want you on it?”  Or was LeMar appearing on another Victor recording at the same time?  Was he the recording supervisor’s idea?  Was HYENA STOMP — very close to one strain of KING PORTER — created for LeMar?  What was union scale for vocal effects?  This unsolved mystery pleases me.  But it makes me smile, which is a good thing in itself.  Let us hope that we always have reasons to laugh.

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!

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!