The Beloved and I went to Olga Bloom’s “Bargemusic” last Thursday to hear the ebullient stride pianist Judy Carmichael and her trio — with sterling fellows Jon-Erik Kellso and Chris Flory — and the barge wasn’t the only thing a-rockin’. I’ll be writing up that concert for Jazz Improv (www.jazzimprov.com), but take that opening sentence as a preview.
Judy’s new CD, SOUTHERN SWING, just out, pairs her with two like-minded Australian stars, cornetist Stephen Grant and guitarist John Scurry, at the 2007 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. It presents her set at the festival as it occurred, and the results are cheering. Judy offers a bouncy, streamlined version of many of Fats Waller’s most famous pianistic motifs. Her rhythm is energetic, her pleasure in what she is doing comes through wholly. Catch her bell-like solo passages late in “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” quite moving in their patient simplicity, her willingness to let the piano ring out. Some of Judy’s pleasure, however, comes through in her chatty banter between numbers: the band is so rewarding that I would have traded much of the banter for one or two more songs.
I knew Stephen Grant and John Scurry from hearing them on the CDs recorded live at cornetist Bob Barnard’s annual jazz parties. Scurry I was accustomed to as a limber single-string soloist and rhythm player: here, he offers acoustic chordal solos, heartening suggestions of players like Bernard Addison and Carmen Mastren. Grant is even more astonishing: he appears at the Barnard parties as a pianist — one so splendid that I found myself listening to ensemble passages to hear his uplifting Jess Stacy – Teddy Wilson lines. Here — damn him for being so excessively talented — he shows off his heartfelt, loose-limbed cornet playing. It sounds simple, but every note is perfectly placed, his tone is quietly burnished. Like Scurry, he’s absorbed the great players but isn’t imitating them: a listener catches an annunciatory Joe Thomas arpeggio or a Buck Clayton epigram, but it’s all Grant. (I also learned that Grant’s talents extend beyond straight-ahead jazz, and that he has recorded on accordion and saxophone. Highly envy-provoking, I must say.)
The trio creates some very pleasing moments of improvised synergy — the riffs that close the Wilson-Holiday inspired “If Dreams Come True,” the pretty Grant-Scurry duet on “Crazy He Calls Me,” and the mournful yet swinging “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” suggesting a Basie small group after hours, taking its time.
Visit www.judycarmichael.com to purchase this and other CDs, to see Judy with an alligator on her lap, as well as a ckip of her sextet (featuring Kellso and Michael Hashim) on Brazillian television. For CDs recorded at Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties from 1999 on, don’t miss www.rockyotway.com.