JE : So we’re recording tomorrow then.
Fred Bloggs: Ah! What time are we due a the music death cave.
JE : So I take it you’re not a huge fan of the contemporary recording studio.
Fred Bloggs : Depends on you goals. If you’re looking for a place to suck out your soul and have it replaced by a brutal loveless clinical isolation, then they’re ideal.
If you want to replace the transcendent purity of the clarinets with spit and clicking keys, terrific. If you don't like the bell like clarity of the guitar, but love the sound of strings buzzing, and frets squeaking like nails on a chalkboard, fabulous. If you want the double bass and bass drum to sound like you are actually inside them, perfect.
If, on the other hand, you want to hear the beauty of instruments played in exquisite acoustic spaces where sounds flow and mingle into a perfect aural union, then, not really.
If you want to hear musicians play with perfect collective dynamics and personal empathy, no!
An intimate rhythmic interaction. Forget it.
If you want to hear a half dozen musician playing music whilst in an ego crushing state of frustration and suffering…. Go for it!
Smoking Time Jazz Club •
Mean Tones And High Notes
Some bands, sadly most bands, will peak in their first few albums, but certain groups just keep getting better. We are blessed that New Orleans currently harbors several of the later, including the irrepressible Smoking Time Jazz Club. In our five years this is the third of their albums I’ve had the good fortune to review.
If I’m counting correctly Mean Tones And High Notes is their 12th album in just over 10 years together. That’s a lot of time in studio, complemented by the hectic live schedule of a working New Orleans band. Even after all that time they exude joy and respect for each other’s musicality.
The notes to the album, available right on the Bandcamp page, include a guide to “the recording we adore” for each of the classic titles on the album. The list sources a lot blues material, Bessie and Trixie Smith, Monette Moore, the rougher New Orleans stylings of Billie and DeDe Pierce, and Bunk Johnson, and more obscure groups like Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra and Clifford Hayes’ Louisville Stompers. For good measure there are more expected names like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Willie “the Lion” Smith. I certainly appreciate this list as often I wonder which recording of a title inspired a band to include it.
While the track list may favor bluesy material they bring their own sound to it, more upbeat here than on previous records. Listening to their previous albums I often pictured strolling in the New Orleans afternoon heat and being drawn into a dark cool bar by their languid sound. This record has a more celebratory feel, the kind to draw a crowd at 10pm or light up a street party.
James Evans is a welcome addition to the lineup on clarinet and c melody sax. His amazing warm tone is instantly recognizable, one of the top reedmen in the world today as far as I’m concerned. He can also sing impressively, which he does on one track.
Sarah Peterson leads the band and sings on most tracks, though even the vocal numbers put the band’s extended interactions front and center. There are frequent occasions for two reeds, the second being Joe Goldberg. it’s an instrumentation we may associate now with a later era but can also be traced back to Buddy Bolden’s band. This is deeply New Orleans Jazz.
Jack Pritchett on trumpet also deserves credit for hot soloing. “Blue Trombone Stomp” gives Russell Ramirez his chance in the limelight late in the album. They mostly make full use of the band (or at least most of it), but two of the times they break down to a subgroup are made memorable by guitarist Bret Gardner, who plays banjo elsewhere in the album. His rhythm helps makes “The Breeze” an enjoyable highlight, the perfect complement to both Goldberg’s clarinet line and Peterson’s vocal. John Joyce on bass and Mike Voelker on drums keep things steady throughout.
This album was recorded professionally in Marigny Studios early last February, no social distancing involved. The growth of the band album over album is evident, they were already impressive but I think this one is their best yet.
I consider Smoking Time Jazz Club one of the big three in New Orleans, along with Tuba Skinny and the Shotgun Jazz Band. They should be on the radar for jazz festivals looking for bands that can bridge the generational divide. They’ll do so simply by playing New Orleans style traditional jazz of the highest caliber.
For those looking to support the working musicians keeping jazz hot I encourage you to browse through their catalog on Bandcamp and pick an album or two with a track list that suits you. You won’t be disappointed.
OffBeat Magazine September 2016
James Evans’ Octuple Odyssey, The Golden Whippet Of Algiers (Jimmy Wizard Records)
There have been dozens of interesting musicians moving to NOLA in the last few years, none more so than reedman/composer James Evans. His most accessible gigs are at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, where he fits in at the far edge of traditional jazz. The Golden Whippet of Algiers is something altogether different.
It’s a compliment to say this album of 13 originals is hard to compare to anything else. The swing-era maverick Raymond Scott comes to mind, or perhaps Spike Jones’ madcap artistry but with more smarts. It has Ellingtonian touches to the horn arranging, but you wouldn’t confuse it with the Duke: no piano here and 1950s–60s harmonic arranging but with banjo.
Evans exploits the comic potential of his players: Charlie Halloran’s blatting trombone, Jason Marsalis’ woodblock, guitarist Georgi Petrov’s use of harmonics, the clarinets of Evans, Aurora Nealand and Gregory Agid playing at the very top of their registers. The pieces are constantly changing meter, inventing new timbres and exploiting a wide range of dynamics in a very refreshing way.
“Kournikova Bending Over,” “Pigeon, Pigeon,” “Nightmare Blues from Hell,” “I’ll Never Love an Udder”—Evans’ drollery extends to the song titles. The CD is almost unrelentingly comic, and this is its only drawback. Jazz lovers will listen with delight and occasional amazement, and enjoy the craziness.
Evans is a singular player and composer.
OffBeat Magazine November 2014
Shotgun Jazz Band, Yearning (Independent) November 24, 2014 by: Steve Steinberg
Gutsy, gritty and grabbing is the way I would describe the Shotgun Jazz Band, and it is precisely the way I’d label this CD.It is an excellent example of why I always head for Frenchmen Street if I know these guys are playing.This is straight-ahead New Orleans jazz of the first order—no tricks or gimmicks here—and it also helps that everyone in the band is at the top of their form through all 16 of these delightful cuts. Some credit has to go to the recording engineer, Earl Scioneaux, for capturing just the way this band sounds on a really steamy night at the Spotted Cat.Trumpeter Marla Dixon is exciting as usual as one of the dozen or so women around playing first-class jazz on a horn. This disc is also liberally sprinkled with her vocals, which range in presentation from funky to soulful and back again.When you see Marla in person you never know whether she’ll be using a mike or just hollering. She often doesn’t seem to know herself just what her approach will be to a particular tune, and this recording seems to capture that quality.Charlie Halloran’s gut-bucket trombone is a perfect match in the front line, along with the moaning saxophone and Dodds-like clarinet of James Evans, who also takes a vocal on one selection, “Love In Bloom.”
From the very first cut, a hard driving blues called “I Believe I Can Make It By Myself,” Marla’s husband John Dixon’s banjo is clearly in control of the rhythm section, giving it a sound reminiscent of the Bunk Johnson revival band of 70 years ago.Bass player Tyler Thompson and drummer Justin Peake are strong in that they are “just there.”The pianist is a bit of a surprise. Ben Polcer is usually heard on trumpet leading his own New Orleans Six, but it’s well known that he also plays good workmanlike piano, which he does here throughout the disc, including in two or three solo spots.While it is all in the same earthy style, There is quite an array of music here; blues, pop tunes, one familiar brass band hymn (“Over In The Glory Land”), a classic march (“Mobile Stomp”), and there are even a couple of country and western tunes. The old familiar “Tennessee Waltz” has Marla starting out dreamily but ending up in pure funk.The King Oliver tune “Tears” gets a good treatment here, completely ensemble like the original, except for some clarinet breaks replacing a chorus of Armstrong breaks in the Oliver version. Evans is especially good on “Kentucky Blues,” which also features a satisfying Ben Polcer piano solo, the most of him you’ll hear on this disc.If you’re a visitor to town and looking for a good example of the kind of music you’ll find on Frenchmen Street these days, this CD would make a solid choice. It was recorded, the sleeve tells me, on Mother’s Day 2014.So take it from me, these “Mothers” know just what they’re doing.
OffBeat Magazine June 2015
Steve Pistorius Trio, Under the Creole Moon (GHB Records) June 29, 2015 by: Tom McDermott
The pianist Steve Pistorius, a New Orleans native, is an encyclopedia of early New Orleans jazz. He knows the works of the obvious masters—Morton, Armstrong, Bechet—inside out, but also delves into some delightful corners where few venture. As the liner notes put it, “irresistible ancient pop songs and vaudeville trifles.”It is Steve’s mission, as proselytizer for this music, to avoid the “Dixieland Top 40,” to provide well-played, heartfelt programs by the best musicians available. And so he has on his latest, Under the Creole Moon. He starts with the rhythm section by using Hal Smith, veteran of a hundred sessions and possibly the best Pre-WW2 era drummer around. Bassist Jim Singleton, a player who can stretch to the 22nd century, rocks it hard, and contributes some nice bowed solos along the way.
The freakishly gifted reedman James Evans, and clarinetist Orange Kellin, a student of New Orleans jazz since the 1960s, continue the magical synergy that made Steve’s last album, New Orleans Shuffle, such a great listen. David Sager, long in exile in Washington D.C., plays just the right trombone tones. He and Evans provide some deliciously fey vocals, the latter particularly on “Solamente Una Vez,” a Mexican bolero that’s been covered by Nat King Cole and Andrea Bocelli.Pistorius solos here and there, but seems content to let others get the glory. This is a rare quality in a bandleader and a fine one to hear on a record.Quotes about James' music from Humphrey Lyttleton on his regular Monday night programme on Radio 2, ‘Best of Jazz'
Quotes about James' music from Humphrey Lyttleton on his regular Monday night programme on Radio 2, ‘Best of Jazz'
With the Boston Tea Party playing Redcar
...and what an intriguing style'. ‘The words Buddy de Franco meets Pee Wee Russel came to mind as I listened to that.
James' own band Octuple Odyssey playing ‘All Caved In'
‘Here is a little exercise for those who find it hard to listen to a jazz performance unless they have neatly herded it into a neatly labelled escape-proof category. If you succeed in pinning this down to your satisfaction, please don't tell me. I prefer to let the music like this just wash over me while I smile contentedly.'
James' own band Incredible String Four playing ‘I Never Knew'
‘I found the blend of introspection and modern virtuosity a delight throughout a varied repertoire - and what glorious clarinet playing there.'
Playing the track 'Read the Wrinkles' from the CD 'James Evans Octuple Odyssey', subtitled 'Closer to the Sauce'., Humphrey Lyttelton said:
In jazz criticism and discussion, especially in this country of ours, I’m afraid there’s a tendency to listen to a new piece of music and then search around for something to which one can liken it - like a drunk floundering about looking for a lamppost to cling to. Well. Today, we are better at disguising this unworthy process than we were in the past when the habit was to give a musician a quite arbitrary job description - Britain’s Ben Webster, Buddleigh Salterton’s answer to John Coltrane and so on. I could introduce the music of James Evans by saying that in its originality, flare for voicing, wit and blank refusal to acknowledge the existence of stylistic barriers, it brings to my mind Australian composer John Sangster in his Hobbit Mode. But an even better compliment could be to describe it quite simply as pure quirkily brilliant James Evans , and let you hear it.
After playing Track 1 on the CD he said:
I love it! James Evans from his CD Octuple Odyssey subtitled Closer to the Sauce (spelt S_A_U_C_E), and that’s on Raymer Sound. There we heard Evans himself on clarinet, Jonny Boston on tenor sax, Alan Barnes on alto sax, Graham Hughes on trombone, with Eric Webster on banjo well to the fore. That piece, called Read the Wrinkles, barely scratches the surface of the CD's versatility, for that you must buy it to hear familiar sounds put together in a way you never heard before.
Click here to read feature article about James in 'Just Jazz' magazine
There have been at various times jazz groups that have defied the jazz commentators urge to put the music into neatly defined categories like butterflies on a tray. Regular listeners to the Best of Jazz will have heard from time to time the music of the Anachronic JB of France, a team that was skilled in interpreting modern jazz standards in traditional style. In Britain at this time we have a leader who goes a step further composing and performing his own music in a manner that mixes contrasting idioms in an original and, to my ears, a constantly stimulating way. James Evans, clarinetist and saxophonist, is without doubt a national treasure.
The delightfully eccentric James Evans with Martin Wheatley on banjo, Tom Kincaid, paino and James Ydstie, bass, playing his own composition Faster than Dark. And that’s also the name of the CD. It is available on Raymer Sound.
Quote from November 2006 issue of Just Jazz - in an interview with Paul Munnery
He was asked ' Do you see any younger players coming through?' He replied:
'And I am enormously impressed with James Evans' Octuple Odyssey. A truly original style - where else would you hear Alan Barnes with a banjo? Definitely the way forward, I truly believe. A band of people with no stupid preconceptions, you see. There aren't many, but the ones that are there are frighteningly competent.
Quote from a Brian Mulligan review of Whitley Bay Jazz Festival in the October 2008 issue of Just Jazz
'.....On Thursday, the highly talented British reed player James Evans was in the Goodman reed section, while on Sataurday adding his youthful spark to the Clayton team - firing up Undecided with some exceptionally gutsy tenor before switching to clarinet and conjuring up the most tasteful bluesy obligato to Seuffert's tenor in Claytonia. And by Sunday he was to be found in company with his own Incredible String Band. Here indeed is a young British jazzer who has the expertise to rival Seuffert in his ability to play convincingly across a wide stylistic range........'