Years ago, jazz seemed like a lovely meadow, stretching in all directions, that critics and journalists (I don’t need to name the squabbling troublemakers) had divided into little paddocks, each with its own electrified fence. So if Fats Navarro and Jimmy Knepper wanted to talk mouthpieces with Shorty Baker and Vic Dickenson, they knew not to venture too far for fear of getting punished. (Patrick McGoohan, “Number Six,” will do as an encapsulation.)
Much of this silliness has died down in print, but it remains lively among the fan bases, those who look skeptically at “that old stuff” or criticize a slightly streamlined performance as “too swingy.” The electrified fences still proliferate in Facebook’s exclusionary groups, but you’re on your own there.
I say this because I have just listened to a wonderful new CD, with six selections. The composers: Ornette Coleman, Irving Berlin, Victor Schertzinger / Johnny Mercer, Charles Mingus, Eddie Harris, Sammy Fain / Irving Kahal. The songs: RAMBLIN’ / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I REMEMBER YOU / DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOUND OF LOVE / FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE / I’LL BE SEEING YOU. Consider the beautiful expansiveness of that list for a moment: imagine a windowsill of wildly different plants — cherry tomato, orchid, succulents — all given space to grow and flourish.
This wholly rewarding CD is I’LL BE SEEING YOU, by “THREE WAY STRETCH,” Malcolm Earle Smith, trombone, vocal, effects; Liam Noble, piano; Dave Wickins, drums. The band’s “cover photo” is a study in itself, and says something about the whimsical powers at work, with Malcolm, Liam, and Dave, from the left:
Recorded in November 2018, this album documents a joyful afternoon of music making. Sadly, this was to be drummer Dave Wickins’s last recording. This album is dedicated to Dave, a unique artist and special human being. His passion, humour, and love for the whole tradition of jazz drumming can be heard in these six tracks.
The album artwork, which celebrates Dave’s life and music, is best appreciated by buying the CD, but is also available as a PDF for all digital purchases.
In memory of Dave, we are contributing some of the funds from sales to Prostate Cancer UK. If you would like to contribute a little extra to this charity please consider the ‘pay more’ option above. Or, if you prefer, you can donate directly here: davewickins.muchloved.com.
Here‘s the Bandcamp link to hear more and, I hope, to purchase.
About the music. I am sent CDs still with some frequency, and I try to listen to at least a few minutes of each; some of them, even with high-powered personnels, make me think, “Well, I am supposed to like this, even though I don’t. Can I give it another ten minutes?” And sometimes I can. But there are others — whose names might not be quite so familiar — that feel both ingenious and comfortable at the same time. My first reaction to THREE WAY STRETCH was “Wow!” and then, “This is really splendid.” Its looseness and true improvisation captivated me, and at times I laughed aloud to hear what sport these three ingenious gentlemen had just created.
I should state here that this is a trio recording rather than the standard ensemble theme statement – solos – e.t.s. format. At times it is a somber dance, a street parade, a musical Frisbee game in the park. Each of these musicians is masterful not only in imagination but in execution, but at times I thought I was listening to a game rather than a recording session. It is the music that is made before the audience has arrived or after they have gone.
And the playfulness goes hand-in-hand with deep feeling: quietly impassioned readings of SOUND OF LOVE and I’LL BE SEEING YOU; the puckishness of ALEXANDER’S; the irresistible swing of RAMBLIN’. (By the way, Malcolm is not only a wonderful trombonist but a surprising and emotive singer.) Each performance is its own playlet, and the CD feels like an immensely satisfying full-course meal of wonderfully flavored dishes: filling but not overwhelming. It seems impudent to dissect the trio into its component human parts, since the synergy at work here is rich and honest, but the disc makes me regret that I never saw Dave, Liam, and Malcolm in performance: somewhere between the best improvisatory dramatic troupe and a tap-dance jam session.
No cutting contest, but the sounds of three musicians who love the melody and deep swing, who love the music and the places it can go, and who clearly love and respect each other. . . . and who are having the time of their lives in musical conversation.
At times it sounds as if three masters of comic timing are telling jokes; at times Malcolm, Liam, and Dave compose overlapping soliloquies; at times it’s the wind in the reeds, the branches gently tapping the house, the songs of morning birds.
A truly splendid recording, full of life-energies. Investigate for yourself.
May your happiness increase!