I have to come out with it: the seventy-five minute span of a compact disc is often too much for me. So when I loaded the first of three discs by the Royal Garden Trio into the car player, I expected the outcome to be the same: restlessness halfway through. No, the Beloved and I (she’s a stern critic herself) played the three discs nonstop during a six-hour drive.
They’re that good.
On these CDs, the RGT is made up of Mike Karoub (cello and string bass); Tom Bogardus (tenor guitar and clarinet), Brian Delaney (acoustic and electric 6-string guitars). And they have eminent guest stars: Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); James Dapogny (piano); Bess Bonnier (piano, heard on JITTERBUG WALTZ below); Chris Smith (sousaphone), Louis Caponecchia (ukulele / vocal); Jo Serrapere, Paul King, Melissa Brady (vocals); Gian Paulo (string bass), Rod McDonald (guitar), Donn Deniston (drums).
What makes the Royal Garden Trio so delightful is their own restrained eloquence. The world is full of enthusiastic Hot Club spinoffs — very capable musicians, inspired by Django and Stephane. But often the result is “note for note,” which is amazing technically but less so aesthetically, or an overabundance . . . many notes, many choruses, fast tempos, dalling string virtuosity. One part of the brain admires; the other portion asks (in Lester Young’s words) to be told a story.
The members of the RGT have beautiful stories to tell. They are virtuosic as well, but they know that too much is not a good thing. So their solos are thoughtful speech, not diatribes; their notes ring and resound in the air. Each player creates compelling melodies, and they work together like a swing version of the Budapest Quartet.
Since I often find the heirs to Grappelli are given to excessive sweetness and high drama, I am thrilled by Karoub’s cello: earnest, dark yet lithe. Mike’s conception is never overblown, but his solos can be majestic. Delaney’s guitar is part Lang, part Lonnie Johnson. Bogardus romps on his guitar and his clarinet playing is easy, fervent, balancing Dodds and klezmer. And the trio works together to create something beautiful, varied, and cheering. Their performances are marvelous vignettes, the guitarists switching lead and rhythm, Bogardus playing a chorus on clarinet; Karoub bowing and then plucking in a propulsive manner (across bar lines) that recalls Steve Brown.
And they swing — without even trying hard.
Although much of the repertoire is familiar, the trio’s approach lifts it up: I never found myself saying, “Oh, another ST. LOUIS BLUES,” but was excited by what this band can do. And the CDs offer some less-played material as well: Ellington’s SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (for the home-improvement minded among us, but this time with the verse), THERE’LL COME A TIME, RAGGIN’ THE SCALE, I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES, GO INTO YOUR DANCE, a hidden track of APRIL KISSES, and some winding originals that sound like theme music for mid-Thirties screwball comedy films.
But you can hear and see the Trio for yourself courtesy of YouTube:
HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (which Mike Karoub informs me was Moe Howard’s favorite song, a valuable fact):
JITTERBUG WALTZ (with the legendary Bess Bonnier on piano):
To find out more, visit the Trio’s website: http://www.theroyalgardentrio.com/sched.html. And if you feel moved to purchase all three discs (I recommend this) ask for the JAZZ LIVES discount. These players (and their nimble friends) will bring joy, in or out of the car.
SWING OUT WITH PAYPAL! ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS: