Tag Archives: Orangapoid Records

BEAU KOO RAY: MUSIC FROM RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO and TRIO (JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MATT WEINER) and SOLO AT THE ROYAL ROOM

Yes, it’s true. Two new CDs from pianist Ray Skjelbred — one solo, one solo and trio, with Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Weiner, string bass. The trio recording pictured above is available here in digital and physical form.

Both trio and solo recordings are available in digital form from Ray himself (19526 40th Place NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155) — each one for 17.00 USD.

The disc pictured above has fifteen selections. The trio selections are marked *.

BLUE AIR BLUES* / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / SOLITUDE* / MEMORIES OF YOU / DINAH* / JACK DAILY BLUES* / RUSSIAN LULLABY* / KMH DRAG / THAT RHYTHM MAN / BLUES FOR ART HODES / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL* / FAREWELL BLUES* / COQUETTE* / PIANO MAN / SMILING SKIES //

At Bandcamp you can listen to BLUE AIR BLUES (based on a phrase created by Sidney Bechet in 1941 for a Victor record date with Vic Dickenson) and KMH DRAG (in honor of the fabled Max Kaminsky-Freddie Moore-Art Hodes Blue Note record date).

I created a YouTube video of the trio’s SOLITUDE because it left me awestruck:

Ray’s solo piano recital (shown below) is available only from him, directly, and it’s lovely.

I couldn’t bear people not hearing some music from it, so here are two videos, both of them with deep roots in Earl Hines and his world.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? — which Hines sang on record, also in 1929. Ray’s version is jaunty, but if you know the lyrics, a shirt-sleeved melancholy peeps through:

And the hilarious explosion that is Alex Hill’s BEAU KOO JACK:

The solo performances are ROSETTA / BLACK AND BLUE / MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY / SWEET ELLA MAY / ANAGRAM BLUES / HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? / I COVER THE WATERFRONT / BEAU KOO JACK / 313 RAG / SAVOYAGERS STOMP / PINKY ROSE / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU //

I’ve been entranced with Ray and his colleagues since 1988 or so, when John L. Fell sent me a tape containing BERKELEY RHYTHM, and I have been privileged to meet, hear, and video-record him in person for a several years (my “California period,” 2011-2016, more or less) — something I do not take lightly.

Ray and his music are anything but monochromatic. There are touchstones for those who pay attention: Earl Hines, Jess Stacy, Frank Melrose, the Chicago Cubs, Washington Phillips, Alex Hill, Louis Armstrong, Chicago hot music, the dolceola, Count Basie, Sir Charles Thompson, Donald Duck, Joe Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Emerson, Art Hodes, the Marx Brothers, Western Swing, Jim Goodwin, all beings with their own essential personalities, and art that remains its identity no matter how vigorous the transformation.

His playing is at once emotionally deep and instantly accessible, but it wriggles away from those who would compartmentalize it. All I can say is that it is a series of remarkable balances: joy and melancholy, stomp and contemplation, facility and plainness. He is himself, and that is thrilling.

On the trio recording he is joined, shoulder-to-shoulder, by two people who have their own selves firmly intact, although wildness emerges for those who listen closely. It would be possible to build a Swing Era big band purely on the rewarding cardiac thrum of Matt Weiner’s string bass, where he creates engaging melodies while supplying that mobile foundation. Jacob Zimmerman is an explorer at heart, reminding me of Boyce Brown and Paul Desmond andJimmy Giuffre, early Bird and Pete Brown in turn, while peeking out from behind his latest four-bar surprise.

The repertoire chosen on both discs has deep roots in what academia would call a pre-World War Two jazz canon: Clarence Williams and Carroll Dickerson, Johnny Green and Harry Warren, Blue Note Records, Hershel Evans, Benny Meroff, and more. But this is not a trip to the museum, for both CDs, at points, are lifted up by a kind of playful disobedience. “We can play this song the way everyone expects us to play it, but here and there we need to be elastic, to improvise, not only in notes and rests, but spiritually.” All this music exemplifies play at its best, an art that is both puppy-friendly and as serious as one’s life-work,

The real thing, full of delightful shadings.

I am a serious Bandcamp enthusiast, and have applauded many of their releases. And it might be the only way one can acquire the trio CD in digital form. But I applaud even more the direct offering of support (read “love”) to the artist(s). So although I don’t want Ray to be so busy answering the mail and cashing checks that he doesn’t have time to play, I’d love to find out that his mailbox is full of lettuce. Consider yourself pointed in that direction.

May your happiness increase!

“CHICAGO STYLE — HOT AND LYRICAL”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: “LIVE FROM LACEY 2012”

Pianist / singer / composer Ray Skjelbred has been making lively, fervent hot jazz on his own and with congenial souls for a few decades now, and although he is a presence on the West Coast jazz scene, we can’t get enough of his music.  A new compact disc by Ray’s small group, the Cubs, is an event.

The most recent one, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO, on the Jazzology label, was a delight — but it was recorded in the studio.

cubs_live

This brand-new issue from Orangapoid Records catches the Cubs in performance on June 29-30, 2012 at America’s Classic Dixieland Festival in Olympia, Washington (or more precisely, at St. Martin’s College in Lacey).  The gifted recordist and enthusiast Joe Spencer took down what everyone heard, and a swinging disc is the result. (The sound is what you would hear if you were sitting right in front of the band: it’s much much better than a homemade location recording, and what might be lost in the frequency range here or there can be adjusted by the listener . . . besides, there’s none of that nagging studio tension so prevalent in current CDs.)

The Cubs are comprised of Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocals; Ray, piano / vocals; Katie Cavera, guitar / vocals; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums / vocals.  And the repertoire is characteristically delightful — some surprises and songs that haven’t been played into oblivion: A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / HINES RHYTHM / YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY (vocal Kim) / TWO DEUCES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / WAILING BLUES / I LIKE TO DO THINGS FOR YOU (vocal Katie) / I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU / EC-STACY / ONE, TWO, BUTTON YOUR SHOE (vocal Katie) / I FOUND A NEW BABY / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU (vocal Ray) / FAN IT / WHAT’S THE REASON I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU (vocal Hal) / OH, BABY!

The music on this disc — relaxed and heated at the same time — has many virtues.  For one, this is a band.  You can hear the musicians listening to one another (I can see them smiling at what they are hearing) and there is a wonderful communal spirit here — it’s not a group of people running through their familiar solos on the usual tunes, but much more like a bunch of children at play, gleefully discovering what they can make happen for their (and our) collective pleasure.  Because I think of the Cubs as a jazz community, I won’t do the usual encomia of each player — but will say only that this CD will bring joy.

Having said that I won’t . . . a few quiet thoughts are in order.  Skjelbred is one of the most delightful band pianists I know — his lines and comments sneak in, amuse, support, and uplift.  And he is such a delicious soloist.  And the spiritual leader of one of the best rhythm sections on the planet — enabling three superb musicians (Clint, Katie, and Hal) to play celestially.  And isn’t it about time to start skywriting praise of Kim Cusack?  Not simply as a clarinetist or a saxophonist or a singer but as a great improvising musician who knows how to make us stomp or laugh or weep.  An absolute master.  There!  The truth is out.

Here’s Rae Ann Berry’s video of the Cubs at that very festival, playing YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER — just so you know how fine the music on this CD is:

You can purchase the CD (and others) by visiting Ray’s site here.  The price is $18 including shipping.  Or you can send a check for that amount to ORANGAPOID RECORDS, 19526 40th Place N.E., Lake Forest Park, WA 98155.  You won’t regret it.

May your happiness increase.