Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud is a hot band.
Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.
There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores. Is that sufficient recommendation?
The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.
Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn. Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn. Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.
At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet. I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.
Here’s what we saw.
As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band. Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:
Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:
Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY? I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:
The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:
I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):
Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:
I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:
Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:
RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:
A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:
Florists take note! Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):
The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:
A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:
The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:
And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):
What a wonderfully spirited band! And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .
The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger. May I offer a safer solution?
Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.
Illustration by Jillian Johnson