If the names above are familiar to you — John Royen, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Joshua Gouzy or Steve PIkal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — then my copying Louis’ delighted exhortation will make perfect sense. To go a little deeper, here is a new CD, titled GREEN SWAMP, a Darnell Howard original. It contains seventeen performances and was beautifully recorded by New Orleans’ own Tim Stambaugh.
But perhaps four minutes of music would be a joy-spreading interlude at this point — a Don Ewell original, SOUTH SIDE STRUT, with Steve on string bass. (Don, as you might know, was John’s mentor: no one better.)
I have a familiar pride in this issue, because I wrote the notes:
In a society in love with newness, to call something “old-fashioned” may seem an insult. Doesn’t everyone want the latest thing? But to me that expression is another name for timeless beauty and virtue, creations that will last. This CD is terribly “old-fashioned” and I am damned glad of it.
This music is melodic, swinging, affectionate. It romps. It grins. The sounds embrace the listener; what comes out of the speaker sounds good, and that is no small thing (in Condon-terms, it is honey rather than broken glass to the ear). Without gimmicks or jokes, the band says, “Come along with us. We promise you a good time.” Most of the tunes (“tunes” is another old-fashioned word, one I’d hate to lose) are medium-tempo, a little faster or slower: good for spur-of-the-moment-shoeless dancing in the kitchen.
Captain John Royen doesn’t have that honorific only because he pilots a boat; his playing is wonderfully decisive: you know where you are at all times, and the trip is both elegant and exciting, as he steers by the lights of Ewell and Morton. The Captain is also that reassuring evolutionary accomplishment: a two-handed orchestral pianist. He doesn’t pound or race: you can set your clock by him. His colleagues Pikal and Gouzy are just as reliable: they offer a limber rhythmic platform, flexible and stimulating. Hal Smith is a master of swing and sonic variety: every note both propels and rings as he plays “for the comfort of the band.” Finally, there’s the unequalled Kim Cusack, whose tone is lemonade in July, who creates memorable variations with lightness and fervor. The repertoire is honorable melodies that are both venerable and fresh. By the way, this is a band, not simply four soloists in the same room: listeners with even mildly functioning imaginations will sense these musicians smiling approval through every track.
I used to write long liner notes, supplying biography (Google made that redundant) and song origins (ditto), explaining musical nuances. My new goal is to write notes that can be read in less than three minutes and twenty seconds, the time it took to play a 78 rpm record. If more explanation is necessary, one of us has failed. Not the band, I assure you. Now, get to listening! Joy awaits.
The other performances on the disc are I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SQUEEZE ME / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / HONEY HUSH / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / HERE COMES THE BAND / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / PRETTY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MONDAY DATE / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU / SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA / BUSH STREET SCRAMBLE / DELMAR DRAG / GREEN SWAMP.
May your happiness increase!