When you hear this new CD, you will, I assure you, repeat some variant of the truncated title to yourself. Yes, it is just that satisfying, and to know that music at this level is being created is very reassuring. The SUPER SWING PROJECT lives up to its name.
Music first, then words. Here’s the SSP performing BLUE LOU live in February 2016:
and THEM THERE EYES, from January 2015:
Who are these heroes? Jérome Etcheberry, trumpet; Daniel Barda, trombone; Louis Mazetier, piano; Charles Prevost, washboard. Each one’s a brilliant soloist, but they also combine magnificently as a friendly exalted band, recreating no particular recording but playing soulfully and individualistically in an idiom I hope will never vanish from this planet.
Although I grew up on recordings where the band had a fixed instrumentation — trumpet, trombone, reeds, piano, guitar, bass, drums as the most common — I have a deep fondness for less orthodox arrangements of musicians, the sly and pleased groups of musicians who might assemble onstage to play their hearts out after the regular program had concluded. Hence, the EarRegulars, the Braff-Barnes Quartet, Soprano Summit, memorable duos, trios, quartets, quintets of the last twelve years, seen and heard and revered live. To this list of delightful musical entourages I happily add the SUPER SWING PROJECT.
Starting from the back. The washboard — as a musical instrument — has received a good deal of scorn, some of it well-deserved. But when well-played (as Charles Prevost shows he can!) it is a lovely alternative to the trap kit, being light, mobile, and less likely to overwhelm a delicate soloist or ensemble. It stays in the treble register, and offers a delighted commentary to what horns and piano are doing, giving its own slightly more emphatic version of wire brush work. Charles is subtle without being inaudible, witty without being jokey; he never gets in the way but he adds so much.
Hearing Louis Mazetier at the piano is one of the great experiences for any jazz listener. At the beginning of any performance, a Mazetier introduction offers the same beguiling comfort as Ralph Sutton’s work did. The ear hears it, and the body says, “This is going to be good; it is going to be inspired. You can relax into the comfort of the music. Welcome to the world of swing!” Mazetier is a truly orchestral pianist, ever supporting the soloist and the band, but never demanding all of our attention. He knows the great tradition, but his playing is not a series of learned modules (that Fats run, those James P. octaves); rather it is a beautiful personal synthesis of a very demanding piano tradition. Here comes the band!
What Daniel Barda creates might look simple; he is never aiming for post-modern pyrotechnics. But he is a peerless ensemble player, adding just the right touches, and a wonderful soloist, combining lyrical tenderness and propulsive gruffness in every phrase. The trombone can — in the hands of an unsubtle player — become a clown or a bully, but Barda’s art is masterfully delicate even when he is executing an emphatic smear or growl. He knows the tradition and embodies it in every phrase, but he is completely himself.
Jérome Etcheberry can play in many contexts, but he is an immensely lyrical hot player, someone who harkens back to Louis, of course, in simple, emotionally-charged phrases, passionate without ever being ostentatious, as well as the majestic players of the Louis-cosmos. In his subtle, delicate but deep phrasing, I hear delightful echoes of Buck Clayton and early Cootie Williams, but often — a treasure indeed — he evokes Joe Thomas. (Listen again to THEM THERE EYES and you’ll hear it too.) I heard him first on CD with Les Swingberries, and was enchanted.
The new CD is a delight. Although the repertoire is familiar, the band’s approach makes these old tunes gleam and dance: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SISTER KATE / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / FATS WALLER MEDLEY / DOCTOR JAZZ (with a guest appearance by the fine banjoist Peter Gutzwiller) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / THEM THERE EYES / SUGAR / I WANT TO BE HAPPY /WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. Recorded live and beautifully so, the session is relaxed and intense at once, a true delight.
Here’s the enthusiastic review (from February) of this CD in the Bulletin du Hot Club of France, and here you can “ecouter et achetez” the actual CD or a digital version. One more: the band’s Facebook page — with their schedule, a new video, and more.
“Can’t believe!” indeed. You, too, can be in that state of delighted incredulity. Yes, such things are possible in 2016.
May your happiness increase!