The Memphis Nighthawks took their name from another band that had a brief recording career in 1932. Neither of the bands were from Memphis, nor is the music on this CD. That is of little consequence in the whole scheme of things.
The group was co-founded by multi-reed player Ron DeWar and trumpeter Steve Jensen who drew most of the members from the University of Illinois Jazz Band. The youth of the band belies the outcome; traditional jazz is played with verve, ebullience and maturity.
The group dispenses with a drummer for a large part, filling the space with the bass saxophone of Dave Feinman. Bob Kornacher was on two tracks on the original release and on all of the five that were added for this CD.
The Memphis Nighthawks show their temperament for time and evolution beginning with "Jazz Lips" which cavorts dizzily, Jensen and DeWar parlaying the melody and opening space for the banjo, bass and trombone. Drummer Bob Kornacher is an articulate presence on the tracks he plays on. For one, he gives "Margie" a crisp drive with added oomph coming from Feinman. The up tempo bliss is turned on in the ensemble lines of Jensen, DeWar and Helleny who go on to trade exchanges, their conversation utterly delightful.
Jelly Roll Morton
's "Shreveport Stomp" is played by DeWar on the clarinet with the counterpoint provided by the trombone and Mike Miller on the guitar. The brass once more sparkles, both in fleshing the melody and in their assured sense of development.
Beale Street is located in Memphis, Tennessee and the inclusion of the blues "Beale Street Mama" makes the city the one connection to the group who inject warmth through a modulated pace into the tune, made all the more powerful by the understated playing.
The Memphis Nighthawks had their finger on the pulse when recording this in 1976 and 1977. They still make it tick.
Personnel: Steve Jensen: trumpet; Joel Helleny: trombone; Ron DeWar: clarinet,
soprano sax, C melody sax; Mike Miller: banjo, guitar; Dave Feinman:
bass sax; Bob Kornacher: drums (4, 5, 12-16).