There's no mistaking the Memphis Nighthawks knew and loved traditional jazz, but what really distinguished the group was its blend of fire, drive and enthusiasm. On the 30 year-old sessions collected into Jazz Lips
, the group puts these qualities across with enough vengeance to shame a host of neoconservatives, breathing life into its preferred form in ways those neocons might never muster.
The absence of drums on much of the record lends it a light and spacious air, but without losing that aforementioned drive. The venerable "1919 Rag" is handled with just the right amount of irreverence and, simple though that may sound, the number of musicians who have failed to do so would suggest it isn't simple at all.
Ron DeWar makes a persuasive case for the neglected C melody sax on "My Honey's Lovin' Arms," only to be followed in similar fashion by trumpeter Steve Jensen. A master of grandstanding whilst seemingly doing anything but, there's certainly there's no pandering in Jensen's work. Drums are present on this track, incidentally, but the lightness persists in celebration of life.
That bass saxophonist Dave Feinman lacks Adrian Rollini
's ardour is not meant as a criticism; there's little point in trying to compete with the late saxophonist's singular work. Instead, Feinman's a master of understatement on Walter Donaldson
's "Changes," demonstrating a rhythmic veracity guaranteed that ensures impetus in the music. DeWar, again on C melody, supports his top billing on the CD, but it's a shame, based on the strength of his input here, that trombonist Joel Helleny
doesn't share it.
By this band's standards, "My Honey's Loving Arms" is a lengthy affair, clocking in at nearly six minutes. Not a second is wasted, however, and it's clear from the performance that this ensemble had the music bedded in nicely in its playing without resorting to sterile routine. There's a little relocated Bud Freeman
about DeWar here, but music like this always goes down better with this kind of joy of life.
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).