Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ray Charles - The Genius Sings the Blues

This 1961 album is mostly a collection of tracks originally released as R & B singles, from 1952 to 1959. For the most part, they are not Ray's biggest hits, since those were collected on earlier albums - although "The Right Time" and "I Believe to My Soul" make their first album appearance here. More interestingly, three tracks from Charles' December 4, 1953 New Orleans recording session were issued for the first time on this album, since they weren't released as singles; "Nobody Cares," "Ray's Blues," and "Mr. Charles' Blues." Even more intriguing is the other track appearing for the first time here - a cover of Big Maceo's "Someday Baby" performed only by Ray, his piano, and his vocal. It's some of the deepest blues I've heard from him. He apparently recorded 20 solo tracks - just him at the piano - at this May 10, 1953 session, but only "Someday Baby" was ever issued. I imagine that the other 19 were destroyed in the (in)famous Atlantic tape warehouse fire.

Although, I have most of these tracks elsewhere, I really enjoyed spinning this well-programmed mono album today. All the selections are indeed blues-based, although they're not all Blues with a capital "B." And the solo "Someday Baby" just blows me away.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Orchestra U.S.A. - Debut

Pianist John Lewis, best known as the music director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, was always interested in classical music nearly as much as jazz, and throughout his career he worked on ways to combine the styles, even before the term "third stream" had been coined to describe such fusions. One of his most ambitious projects was the formation, in 1962, of Orchestra U.S.A., a chamber orchestra made up of some of New York City's best musicians. The idea was that the orchestra would be able to play jazz, contemporary classical music, or anything in between.Gunther Schuller signed on as conductor, and the original personnel included the likes of Eric Dolphy, Phil Woods, Jim Hall and Richard Davis from the jazz world, and Harvey Phillips, Robert DeDomenica, and Nathan Goldstein from the classical side - although many of the these players, and others in the orchestra, were equally at home in both musical worlds.

The first of the group's three albums came out in 1963 on Colpix, the record division of Columbia Pictures (and unrelated to the Columbia Record Company). Aside from a brief reading of "The Star Spangled Banner" as arranged by Schuller, all the pieces on Debut were written by John Lewis or Gary McFarland, who was something of a Lewis protege at the time.

This is an interesting, even valuable album; for one thing, there are a couple of solos by the great Eric Dolphy. But it seems to me that the music or Orchestra U.S.A. is, in the end, something less than the sum of its parts. It's just not very compelling, at least to my ears. For instance, the longest piece on the record, Lewis's suite "Three Little Feelings," doesn't work nearly as well in this setting as in its original brass ensemble version.

The group's final album, Sonorities, was, at least in part, a more fully realized album. But if much of Orchestra U.S.A.'s music wasn't quite successful, it was at least a noble effort.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Interpretations by the Stan Getz Quintet

Jazz impresario and record producer Norman Granz began issuing records on his Norgran label in 1953, after founding the Clef label in the 1940s. Both of these labels, along with some recordings he produced for Mercury, were absorbed into his most famous label, Verve, in 1956. Here is Norgran MGN-1000, the first 12" LP on Norgran. (Norgran also issued 32 10" LPs.)

The Stan Getz Quintet recorded three sessions for Norgran in July and August of 1953; tracks from all three sessions came out as Interpretations, Interpretations #2, and Interpretations #3. The talented tenor saxophonist has a sympathetic, compatible group here - valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, John Williams (not the film composer) on piano, bassist Teddy Kotick, and Frank Isola on drums. Although the cover is somewhat battered, my copy has held up well, and still sounds pretty good over 60 years after it was issued.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lars Gullin on 10" Contemporary

Jazz is, of course, an American invention, but Europeans started putting their own  spin on the music pretty early. Django Reinhardt was recognized as one of the most important guitarists playing jazz almost from the time he first recorded in the 1930s. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Scandinavian jazz scene began to be recognized world-wide as a source of creative jazz influenced by American jazz, but having its own sound and style. The American influence was largely from the so-called "cool jazz" school - the music of Lennie Tristano and the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" band was probably more influential in Sweden and Denmark (and Germany, for that matter) than in the States.

Baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin was recognized pretty early in his career as a world-class improviser by the wider jazz world. This 10" LP, released by Contemporary in 1953, shows the Tristano/cool jazz influence strongly. I have read that these recordings were made specifically for release on Contemporary - I don't know about that, because they were also released in Sweden; I don't know which release came first. Side one here is a quartet with Gullin's baritone sax as the only horn; side two adds a trumpet to make a quintet, and Gullin plays alto sax on a couple of tracks. All the musicians are competent and professional, but only Gullin really has a personal, unique voice.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Milford Graves/Don Pullen - Nommo

Avant-garde drummer Milford Graves, one of the most radical of all jazz percussionists, and the unclassifiable pianist Don Pullen played a concert at Yale University in 1966, and Graves issued two LPs of the performance on his SRP (Self-Reliance Project) label. The first volume, In Concert at Yale University, is impossibly rare; I've  never seen a copy. The second volume, Nommo, while still not a common record, went through several editions, and is easier to find. I have what seems to be the third pressing; the cover are has changed, and the equal billing of the two artists has shifted in Graves' favor. Later issues were on Graves' subsequent label, IPS (Institute of Percussive Studies).

The music was challenging for the time, and still is, frankly. These are atonal improvised duets, in free, unmeasured time - just about as "outside" as any jazz can be. But these are master musicians, and their sense of form imposes an order to these improvisations, even if the language is unusual, even "difficult." The YouTube video features the artwork from the first pressing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alonzo Levister - Manhattan Monodrama

Alonzo Levister (1925-2016) was a conservatory-trained composer and pianist whose music represented, in his words, "equal love for Blues, Bartok, Bach and Baptist shouting." In the 1950s, he became something of a music director (although he probably didn't officially hold any such title) for the Debut record label, which was owned by Charles Mingus and Max Roach; Levister wrote arrangements and conducted for several Debut sessions. Later, he arranged for the Motown and Verve labels, wrote commercial jingles, and arranged Broadway shows. Only once was Levister given free rein to produce an album of his own music on his own terms. The result was Manhattan Monodrama, recorded for Debut in 1956.

Manhattan Monodrama is "third stream" music - that is, music which combines the techniques and attitudes of jazz and classical music. Third stream music is often accused of being pretentious, but there is none of that here. Levister's music is natural and personal-sounding. The small ensemble includes jazz musicians such as trumpeter Louis Mucci and vibist Teddy Charles, classical musicians like cellist Lorin Bernsohn and percussionist Morris Lang (both longtime members of the New York Philharmonic), and, on alto sax and clarinet, John LaPorta, who like Levister himself, was equally comfortable in the jazz and classical worlds. I prefer the five short pieces on side one to the 15-minute ballet score (which gives the album its name) on side two. Apparently John Coltrane like the music on side one as well; he recorded Levister's "Slow Dance" on one of his Prestige albums.

Levister's Debut album has remained obscure - I can't imagine that it sold many copies back in the day, and only one track has ever been reissued. But I'm grateful to have found a slightly battered copy in a Savannah junk store 20 or so years ago. I listened again last night, and enjoyed the music more than ever. Here's "Slow Dance" from Levister's album, but be warned that it's a really bad transfer, in terms of sound quality.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gary Burton Quartet in Concert

Guitarist Larry Coryell died two nights ago at the age of 73. In tribute, I played the 1968 album Gary Burton Quartet In Concert yesterday. Burton formed his quartet with Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow, and Roy Haynes on drums (soon replaced by Bob Moses) in 1967. The quartet with Coryell made three albums - or four, if you count A Genuine Tong Funeral, which augmented the quartet with Carla Bley's keyboards and five wind players to interpret Bley's score.

Of all the quartet's albums, this was the hardest to find back in the day, and it's still the most obscure. There have been CD reissues in Japan and Europe, but not in the United States. It's a great performance, recorded in Carnegie Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall's small theater. The group (with Moses on drums) is focused and inspired; they bring new life to tunes that mostly had been recorded by Burton on previous albums.

The quartet with guitar has remained Burton's preferred instrumentation, and many excellent guitarist have passed through the group since Coryell's tenure: Jerry Hahn, Sam Brown, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, and most recently Julian Lage. I'll always have a special place in my heart for the Gary Burton Quartet - one of the first jazz concerts I attended, in 1976 or 1977, was by the Burton Quartet - the same group as on the In Concert album, with the substitution of Pat Metheny for Coryell.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Paul Chambers - A Jazz Delegation From the East

The great jazz bassist recorded his first album as leader in 1956 for the Jazz West label, a division of Aladdin which only issued ten LPs. This is the second issue, on Imperial, the label which bought out Aladdin in 1961. They reissued Chambers' album the same year, using a cover similar to the Jazz West issue (although with different colors).

Chambers and two of his colleagues here were visiting Los Angeles as members of the Miles Davis Quintet when they recorded Jazz Delegation; only pianist Kenny Drew (an LA resident at the time) was not a Davis sideman. The other Davis employees, John Coltrane, and Philly Joe Jones, contribute a lot to the success of the album; Coltrane in particular is in outstanding mid-50s form. Chambers makes the most of his position as leader, soloing on almost every tune, playing the melody on a couple of tracks, and featuring himself as the only soloist on "Visitation." A Jazz Delegation From the East is a really wonderful straight-ahead jazz album. Check out "Visitation" and "Eastbound."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Spiritual Starlites - Long Black Limousine

I love everything about this record - the cover picture (taken in the East Atlanta Village neighborhood of ATL), the sharp, matching three-piece suits the Starlites are wearing, the momento mori title, and, most of all, the deep gospel soul music in the grooves. This seems to be the Spiritual Starlites' only album, although they made at least two singles. The record is on the ASL (Atlanta Soul Liberation) label, which put out a lot of good local gospel. There's no copyright date on the cover or label, but I would put this one right around 1980, give or take a couple of years in either direction.

The music, by a vocal quartet and a four-piece band, is on the old-fashioned side for the time, and that's to its credit, as far as I'm concerned - no synthesizers or drum machines are to found here. If the label credits can be believed, all ten selections were written by members of the group. Of the four sides of their singles (as listed on Discogs), only one matches the song titles from this album. Here it is - "Don't Hinder Me."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Randy Newman - A Few Words in Defense of Our Country/Putin

Up to now, the most recent record in this blog has been 25 years old. Here's one that was released less than a month ago - not coincidentally, on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States. Randy Newman wrote "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" during the George W. Bush administration, after the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Suddenly the song seems relevant again.

"A Few Words" is performed  by only Newman's voice and piano; his new song, "Putin," is given an elaborate orchestral arrangement, complete with female background singers, the "Putin girls." The connection to the earlier song and to the current world situation is obvious, and it's equally obvious why Newman chose to release this seven-inch 45 RPM single on Inauguration Day.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Borbetomagus / Shaking Ray Levis 10"

Dennis Palmer, the unpredictable synthesizer player of the free improvisation duo Shaking Ray Levis, passed away four years ago last night. In his honor, I played this 10" picture disc - a collaboration between the Shaking Rays (drummer Bob Stagner is the other half of that ensemble) and the noise improv trio Borbetomagus. The latter band consists of Don Dietrich and Jim Sauter on saxophones and Don Miller on guitar - although the sounds that they produce are so raw and distorted that it's difficult to tell which sounds are coming from which instrument. In addition to his musical contributions, Dennis, who was an accomplished visual artist, provided the artwork.

The Levis show their flexibility here - they perhaps lean more toward Borbetomagus' style than vice versa. In any case, these noise improvisations are as well-shaped as they are intense.

The picture disc was a limited edition of 1000 - mine in number 632. Once that edition was sold out,  Agaric Records (Borbetomagus' label) put out a black vinyl version with the artwork on the sleeve. I also have that version, which is pictured below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sidney Bechet - La Nuit est une Sorcière

Sidney Bechet (1897-1959) was the first great jazz saxophonist, specializing in soprano sax; he's one of my musical heroes. One of his more unusual projects came about in 1953, while he was living in France. Bechet wrote a ballet score, La Nuit est une Sorcière`(The Night is a Witch). Actually, since Bechet was not adept at reading or writing music, he demonstrated what he wanted to pianist James Tolliver, who did the actual orchestration. The music could be called "third stream" - that is, a blending of classical and jazz styles. Bechet's piece has been criticized as being naive, but I find it quite enjoyable, with its blend of 19th-century romanticism and the blues. Bechet plays many of the themes himself; his dramatic style works well with the full orchestra.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to find, in near-mint condition, a deluxe early edition of the record of the ballet made by Bechet and conductor Jacques Bazire with an unidentified symphony orchestra. This issue is on the London label; London was a division of British Decca which produced records for the overseas market. Although the recording is complete on one ten-inch LP, it's housed in a box which also contains a cardboard sleeve (with text entirely in French), a paper inner sleeve, and an insert with liner notes in English - a very cool package.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stockhausen - Ceylon/Bird of Passage

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was one of the most important and influential composers of his time. He came out of the European classical tradition, but by the end of his life he had stretched that tradition to the breaking point. This 1975 album is a case in point.

Prompted by a 1968 crisis in his personal life, Stockhausen wrote a series of pieces with the collective title Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days). He called this "intuitive music"; each "composition" was a (usually) short text, giving the performers broad instructions on what/how to play, so that each piece was, in effect, an improvisation limited and guided by Stockhausen's text. Later he produced another series of similar pieces, called Für kommende Zeiten (For Times to Come), from which "Ceylon" and "Bird of Passage" are taken. These pieces were also mainly text-based intuitive music, but passages of conventional musical notation were sometimes included, as in "Ceylon."

I remember seeing an advertisement (perhaps in Down Beat magazine) heralding Stockhausen's affiliation with the Chrysalis label; the idea seemed to be that Stockhausen's music would appeal to fans of psychedelic rock. Apparently Chrysalis' hopes were misplaced, because this was the only album Stockhausen produced for the label. But the music is excellent - strange and wonderful in the way the best Stockhausen can be. Besides the maestro himself on percussion and wooden flute, the interpreters are mostly regular Stockhausen associates, such as Aloys Kontarsky, Peter Eötvös, Harald Bojé, and the composer's son Markus on trumpet. Markus Stockhausen was still a teenager when he participated in the recording of "Bird of Passage," but he was well on his way to becoming one of the best trumpet players on the planet, equally at home with jazz and classical music.

Incidentally, the labels are reversed on many or all copies of this record. The piece with the two trumpet is indeed "Bird of Passage."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Art Hodes on Audiophile

I've long been fascinated by the brilliant recording engineer Ewing Nunn and his Audiophile label, which operated for around 30 years, beginning in 1947. Nunn's records truly sound spectacular, and I feel that he would be as famous as Rudy Van Gelder if it weren't for the fact that Audiophile recorded mostly traditional jazz and dixieland.

Nunn's first records were 12-inch microgroove 78s, with about 10 minutes of music on each side. While he stood by the sonic superiority of the faster speed, he soon gave up on that concept and began issued standard 33.3 albums, which still sounded magnificent.

This 1957 album by Chicago pianist Art Hodes is an early stereo offering, although the liner notes assure the buyer that, "when played on modern mono equipment, it will have good mono sound and the record will have satisfactory playing life." I don't totally understand the "easy listening" designation along the bottom of the cover - the music is fairly mellow, but uncompromisingly jazz. Hodes assembled a group of veterans from Chicago and New Orleans: Eddie Burleton, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Truck Parham, bass; Freddie Kohlman, drum. The resulting music is not earth-shattering, but it's solid and enjoyable. And of course, it's impeccably recorded.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Steve Lacy - Points

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy is one of my major musical heroes. His improvising is passionate, but restrained and thoughtful, with no wasted gestures. He recorded prolifically; between his first recording session in 1954 and his death in 2004 he made scores of albums for many labels, large and small. Points, recorded in 1978 for the French Le Chant du Monde label, is one of the rarest and best records in his catalog. It's something of a concept album - the subject being the soprano saxophone itself. Lacy's longtime saxophone partner, Steve Potts, plays only soprano here (he was primarily an alto saxophonist), and the selections are carefully chosen to pay tribute to Lacy's instrument of choice, and to some its major practitioners.

The record starts with an astringent quartet arrangement (two soprano saxes, bass, and drums) of Duke Elllington's "The Mooche." This track is an homage to the "father" of the jazz soprano sax, Sidney Bechet; Lacy was inspired to take up the instrument after hearing Bechet's recording of "The Mooche." This is followed by an unaccompanied solo (a Lacy specialty) of "In a Sentimental Mood" in medley with "My Favorite Things." This medley is a tribute to Johnny Hodges and John Coltrane.

The rest of the pieces are Lacy compositions. "Stalks" is a trio, with Lacy accompanied by bass and drums (Kent Carter and Oliver Johnson). "Points," which takes up all of side two, is a three-part suite for the two soprano saxophones - the most soprano-oriented piece of them all.

One of the strengths of this album is its variety; no two pieces use the same instrumentation - a common Lacy gambit. The compositions are engaging and the playing is excellent, making this one of my favorite Steve Lacy albums.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Marian McPartland - A Delicate Balance

Marian McPartland was an adventurous conservative, if that makes any sense. She liked to push the boundaries of her mainstream/early modern jazz piano style. The results were sometimes awkward, but often enjoyable, even exciting. On this early-70s album, McPartland plays some stirring blues and the kind of pastel original compositions she was known for, but she also plays an adventurous modal version of "Freedom Jazz Dance." The other highlight, for me, is the first recording of "Jazz Waltz for a Friend," written for McPartland by Alec Wilder, who is one of my favorite composers. "Jazz Waltz" is unusual in harmony and structure, but McPartland handles the challenge well.

Less enchanting are the two cracks at then-recent pop songs, "El Condor Pasa" (popularized by Simon and Garfunkel) and the Beatles' "Something." Those two are pretty corny, but the rest of the album is so worthwhile that I can overlook the lesser tracks.

A Delicate Balance is on the Halcyon label, of which McPartland was a co-founder. Like several of the Halcyon issues, this one has never appeared on CD, although downloads now seem to be available.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sun Ra - A Fireside Chat With Lucifer

This record represents what is probably my all-time best record collecting find. I was thumbing through a box of records at a record show, and came across the difficult-to-decipher cover pictured above. I thought, "This can't be Sun Ra's A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, can it?" A closer looked revealed that it was, and in very good condition. The dealer was asking ten dollars for it, but knocked off a buck, so I got this very rare disc for nine dollars.

I guess record rarity doesn't mean quite the same thing it used to, since almost everything ever recorded is available online to stream or download. So I don't know anymore, but once upon a time this was one of the rarest and most expensive records on Sun Ra's Saturn label. But of course, when I found this record, having a physical copy was the only way you could hear this music. The fact that that is no longer true of almost any music raises all sorts of questions about the rationality of record collecting - but I'll put that discussion off until another day.

The great Sun Ra issued dozens of albums on his own label, in all sorts of configurations. I have examples of the same side one pressed with different second sides. In this case, this must be a  later pressing of Fireside Chat. The first pressing had a more conventional cover, with a painting of a sinister-looking Lucifer. My copy has a typed and xeroxed page glued to a plain white sleeve. I've seen other examples of this version of the cover, sometimes using colored paper.

But in any case, the music is magnificent, in Ra's odd and individual manner. The opening track, "Nuclear War," is the best known piece here, since it appeared on other Sun Ra albums. The rest of side one is excellent, if somewhat conservative by Sun Ra standards. But the side-long title cut on the second side is kind of amazing - a guided improvisation that is alternately mysterious, eloquent, and downright frightening.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Walt Dickerson Direct-to-Disc

In the 1970's, a market arose for "audiophile" recordings - records intended to deliver the best possible sound quality. One of the techniques adopted by some companies to improve sound was actually a very old one - direct-to-disc recording. Up until late 1940s, when recording tape became common, practically all recording was direct-to-disc: the audio signal was fed to a needle which cut a groove directly into a wax or acetate master record.  Tape made for flexibility and convenience - you could splice and overdub - but there were drawbacks in terms of sound. Tape added its own noise to the recorded sound. Bypassing the step of recording onto tape and sending the audio signal directly to a cutting head was seen as a way to improve dynamic and frequency response.

And it worked - there are some truly spectacular-sounding albums of the period which were created with this technique. But it was expensive and inflexible - the musicians had to record an entire LP side at one time, with no chance for corrections. A mistake meant that the entire side had to be recorded again from the beginning.

But the direct-to-disc technique proved to the perfect way to record a solo album by vibraphonist Walt Dickerson. His music is free and improvisatory, so there is no rigid, "correct" box he has to fill. And his unusual, gorgeous tone is perfectly captured on this 1978 album, Shades of Love, which was recorded directly to disc at Media Sound in New York City. Dickerson's music alternates ringing chordal passages with scampering runs, and the recording shows off his wide dynamic range - from a metallic shout to a whisper. Anyone who thinks avant-garde jazz is harsh should hear this beautiful album, either in its original form or as reissued on CD.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Buster Brown - Fannie Mae

It took Buster Brown nearly 50 years to become an overnight success. Brown was born near Cordele, Georgia in 1911, and for most of his life played his harmonica in juke joints and at house parties in south Georgia and Florida, as well as working non-musical jobs. He had one brush with immortality in 1943, when he participated in the Fort Valley Folk Festival, sponsored by Fort Valley State College, an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) in Peach County, Georgia. All the participants were recorded by the Library of Congress for their Archive of Folk Song. Brown's two recorded songs can be heard here.

The music on those 1943 recordings is lively and accomplished, but Brown remained unknown to the larger music world until after he moved to New York City sometime around 1956. There he attracted the attention of record producer Bobby Robinson, and in 1959 he made his first commercial record for Robinson's Fire label: "Fannie Mae," backed with "Lost in a Dream." Presumably to the surprise of everyone involved, Brown suddenly found that, at the age of 48, he had a hit record. "Fannie Mae" topped the R & B charts at #1, and even cracked the Top 40, rising to the #38 spot on the pop charts.

Brown's song is a simple, rocking blues number, which betrays its rural origins with a little of the vocal/harmonica "whooping" often found in the work of Southeastern blues harp players. Buster continued to record and tour, but never had another big hit. He did live long enough to see "Fannie Mae" used in the movie "American Graffiti." I hope he earned a little money for that.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Buddy Arnold - Wailing

Here's an obscure jazz album from 1956 - tenor saxophonist Buddy Arnold's only recorded appearance as leader of a record date. Arnold was a big-band veteran (Claude Thornhill, Stan Kenton, etc.) and was a good "brothers-style" Lester Young-influenced tenorist, but he is frankly outclassed by some of the other musicians here - especially Gene Quill and Dave Schildkraut, who alternate on alto sax. Quill and Schildkraut were both strongly influenced by Charlie Parker, but they shared a certain unpredictable quality, and were both extremely imaginative improvisers.

Arnold (or producer Creed Taylor) was wise to commission some top-notch arrangers to write for the seven-piece (four horns, three rhythm) band; Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohn, Dick Sherman, Nat Pierce, Johnny Williams, and Phil Urso all contribute charts. The result is an intelligent, well-put-together record of 1950s jazz. Buddy Arnold's one shot at the spotlight may not have have resulted in a timeless masterpiece, but it's a very enjoyable album, and it deserves to be remembered.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pretty Baby Soundtrack

After my last post, I'm staying in New Orleans for this one.

I've never seen Louis Malle's 1978 movie Pretty Baby, but the soundtrack LP, never released on CD, is one of my favorite "stealth" New Orleans jazz albums. Among the musical configurations used on the soundtrack are the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, a all-star traditional jazz band built around trumpeter Kid Thomas Valentine, and a trio featuring the great Louis Cottrell on clarinet. Pianist Bob Greene contributes sensitive interpretations of Jelly Roll Morton pieces, and if you're a James Booker completist, you have to have this album - Booker sings Jelly Roll's "Winin' Boy Blues."

The ragtime pieces, traditional New Orleans jazz, and early 20th century songs probably enhanced the action on the screen well, but they also stand on their own as excellent music. Veteran producer Jerry Wexler was in charge of the recording sessions, and in at least one case, his influence made for a beautiful, unusual moment. The opening "Honey Swat Blues" begins with two choruses of unaccompanied trumpet by Kid Thomas before the band comes in. This surely would never have occurred to the musicians, and it makes for a welcome deviation from standard New Orleans practice.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Dirty Dozen Brass Band - An Early Single

Yesterday's post featured a British take on the New Orleans brass band style. Here's the real thing.

There were several factors contributing to the New Orleans brass band revival of the 1980s, but the emergence of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was important to the movement. After they made their first album for Concord in 1984, they began touring the country and the world, and spawned dozens of imitators. But before that album, they recorded two singles for the local New Orleans market. Here's one of them: "Feet Can't Fail Me Now" backed with "Lil Liza Jane," from 1983 on the Mad Musicians label. The musicians' names are conveniently listed on the labels, so we know that this is the same personnel that made the Concord album: Gregory Davis and Efrem Towns on trumpet, Charles Joseph on trombone, Kevin Harris and Roger Lewis on tenor and baritone saxes, the great Kirk Joseph on tuba, and Jenell Marshall and Benny Jones on snare and bass drums.

My memory is a little hazy, but I think I found this record back in the 1990s at Jim Russell's Rare Records on Magazine Street, in their huge selection of local singles. I won't always be posting posting sound clips from the records I include in this blog, but because of the rarity of this one, here are mp3s for listening or download.

Feet Can't Fail Me Now

Lil Liza Jane

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ken Colyer's Omega Brass Band

It amuses me that the fourth recording of a New Orleans-style brass band is by a British group. Ken Colyer's Omega Brass Band was preceded on wax only by the Bunk Johnson's Brass Band (1945), the Zenith Brass Band (1946), and the Eureka Brass Band (1951). But of all European traditional jazz musicians, Colyer was perhaps the most knowledgeable about New Orleans jazz, having gained first-hand experience of Crescent City music when, as a member of the British Merchant Marine, he jumped ship in Mobile, Alabama and made his way to New Orleans in 1952. Before he was eventually caught and deported he managed to play with many of  the local musicians, do some recording, and march in parades with the city's unique brass bands.

Colyer brought his knowledge home and formed the Omega Brass Band, which recorded the very enjoyable Marching to New Orleans 10" LP for British Decca in 1957. The eleven-piece band is a little more polite than a real New Orleans brass band would be, but the sound is full and impressive. The repertoire consists mostly of New Orleans brass band standards, but "Isle of Capri," a Colyer favorite, makes an appearance. Overall, not quite an "authentic" New Orleans brass band experience, but I like the individual flavor Colyer brings to this brass band album. And the cover is an early example of a New Orleans brass band tradition - the entire band never shows up for the cover photo shoot.