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In the United States, the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties yielded a brand of upbeat jazz saturated with sexual innuendo and heedlessness. Across the northern border, Jeff Healey, a Canadian blues-rock guitarist, felt the significance of this traditional jazz. In his latest outing, he and his eight-piece band, the Jazz Wizards, conjur up some old magic.
Healey, who has been blind since infancy, plays the trumpet vivaciously on the earlier pieces. "Bugle Call Rag best displays his effervescent control over the brass instrument as he kicks the album off with a quick-stepping call to arms. Sometimes he switches to the guitar, supporting brass and reed solos with an eccentric dexterity.
Chris Barber, an established British jazz trombonist, guest stars on the album, but he is most endearing when he provides vocals on "Basin Street Blues (a Spencer Williams song made famous by Louis Armstrong) and his own "Goin' Up the River. Barber's voice feels silky without being entirely mellifluous, and even his meandering trombone solo in the former song is honeyed with joviality. On the latter tune, he walks the line of thoughtful doldrums, his vulnerability permeating the atmosphere, but Healey's climactic trumpeting and Gary Scriven's sweeping drumming maintain the record's buoyancy.
Healey also puts his voice to work on several songs, and though the coarseness of his baritone is to be expected of a blues crooner, it falls seamlessly into place and adds a contemporary texture to the standards. Even when his voice cracks at the start of "Someday Sweetheart, he follows through and the audience falls in love with his sympathetic tone.
Most of the tunes were performed live at Hugh's Room, a folk venue in Toronto, and since each song was always brimming with vimupbeat melodies nestled between occasionally seductive bluesboisterous applause always followed. The octet produced a sound so clean that if it wasn't for the ovations, one would not know they were performing live. In contrast, there is a multi-dimensional quality that makes the band's camaraderie, or as Healey calls it, "musical interaction, palpable. Throughout, Healey and Barber uphold the idée fixe, a fast and loose frivolity that dominated both '20s jazz and this album.
Track Listing: Bugle Call Rag; Sing You Sinners; Basin Street Blues; Little Girl; Someday Sweetheart; Darktown Strutters Ball; Confessin'; Keep It to Yourself; Sheik of Araby; Goin' Up the River; It's Tight Like That/Wipe 'em Off.
Personnel: Jeff Healey: trumpet, guitar, vocals (2,4,5,7,9,11); Chris Barber: trombone, vocals (3,10,11);
Christopher Plock: clarinet, soprano and alto saxophone (1-3,5-8,10,11), vocal (6); Terra
Hazelton: vocal (8); Drew Jurecka: violin; Jesse Barksdale: guitar; Brian Graville: piano
(1-3,5-8,10,11); Colin Bray: bass; Gary Scriven: drums; Reid Kaiser: piano (4,9); Ross
Wooldridge: clarinet (4,9); Gary Scriven: washboard (4,9).