Ortlieb’s is “the house of jazz as far as Philadelphia is concerned,” according to local legend Evelyn Simms in one of the ten “soundbytes” used throughout the two CD’s comprising “Live At Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus.”
That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider that the club has been in existence for approximately a dozen years after owner Pete Souder risked his savings to pursue his dream of owning a jazz club. In spite of the usual financial challenges facing jazz club owners, Ortlieb’s has been successful in attracting the cream of Philly’s jazz crop for scheduled performances, as well as jam sessions. “Live At Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus,” produced by bassist Mike Boone and trumpeter Roger Prieto, proves it.
Over the course of the two CD’s, listeners are treated not only to rare performances by legendary musicians, but also to locally known artists who have chosen to hammer out a career of playing jazz within the tight-knit Philadelphia jazz community. Some of the younger members of that community like Farid Barron or Orrin Evans or Uri Caine have gone on to a larger national recognition. But when they come back to Philadelphia, they come back to Ortlieb’s.
The range of talent performing during these on-the-spot performances is broad and deep. Contrast the Dixieland music of The Independence Hall Jazz Band with the polyrhythmic blooz of NuLYONZ, both of which exhibit control and swing in their respective genres. Even more interesting is the opportunity to hear Shirley Scott on piano in one of her uncommon public performances, as she, Arthur Harper and Mickey Roker perform with confidence and swing.
While the camaraderie of the community rallies around its legends, with particular veneration for Evelyn Simms and Jimmy Oliver, the younger generation of Philadelphians provides highlights as well. Take, for example, Uri Caine’s individualistic attack on Monk’s “’Round Midnight” as he uses the melody as exclamations over the harmony in fits and starts. Or Farid Barron, now with Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, takes another look at “Bemsha Swing” as he adopts a New Orleans street march approach mixed with Latin rhythmic suggestions and cascades of notes to enliven his solo.
Consisting of 39 tracks, including the “Soundbytes,” “Live At Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus” actually packs in too much music to cover in a single review. Suffice it to say that the CD covers a wide spectrum, and then some.
Even with the cornucopia of live performances represented within the CD, there still are additional musicians who could have been included, such as Cecil Payne, Eddie Green, John DeFrancesco, Pat Martino, Jim Ridl or Denis DeBlasio.
All of which proves that “Live At Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus,” labor of love that it is, tantalizes the listener with a taste of the richness of Philadelphia jazz, and especially from the musicians who have passed through Ortlieb’s. For ultimate satisfaction, though, Ortlieb’s indeed has to be experienced “live.”