Whose New Orleans trumpet does the title of Kevin Clark’s recording indicate? Buddy Bolden? That one could be heard from miles away. Louis Armstrong? That one contained a tone and phrasing that influenced nearly everyone who followed. Louie Prima? Al Hirt? They brought the trad jazz trumpet sound to audiences all around the world. Preservation Hall? The Dirty Dozen Brass Band? They’re keeping the flame alive today. Influenced by all of these, today’s New Orleans trumpet representative needs to remain rooted in the tradition while establishing his own voice.
As musical director (and performer) with The Dukes Of Dixieland, Kevin Clark brings trumpet echoes of yesterday’s legends before the public. His tone and phrasing resemble that of Louis Armstrong. In his prime, Armstrong’s trumpet could turn a sweet ballad as no other. Not a high-note specialist or technical master, "Pops" had the common sense to play it from the heart and keep it that way throughout his career. We respect Louis Armstrong for many things musical and otherwise; but the excellent quality of his music was never a question.
Similarly, Kevin Clark’s session folds in many influences while bringing us top-notch quality. The album features his clear trumpet lead alongside solos from clarinet, trombone and piano. Drums and basses provide traditional rhythms while the band members fill with countermelody and appropriate support. The one reservation with New Orleans Trumpet is an "old, worn-out upright piano" sound achieved throughout. It’s an inferior sound, but of course it also serves to take us back to the earthy recordings in both trad jazz and bebop when pianos didn’t always sound letter-perfect. With music whose roots come to us directly from Storyville, Rampart Street, French Quarter speakeasies and Bourbon Street, the piano’s distinctive timbre works.
From a hot 7-piece combo on "That’s a Plenty" to a stirring 10-piece "marching" band on "Bourbon Street Parade," Clark’s session inspires. On a slow and steady "Tin Roof Blues," the solo baton is passed from barrelhouse piano to Tim Laughlin’s crisp, vocal-like clarinet. Wah-wah trumpet leads to a warm and soft-edged tenor saxophone solo by Evan Christopher. Finally, Clark sends out a bright, open trumpet message for all to remember.
For a change-up, "Lucky Dog Blues" rises up from country roadhouses with tasty interludes by sassy guitar, Dave Woodard’s lyrical trombone, and Eric Traub’s rich tenor saxophone. "Stardust" is presented as a trumpet/piano duet with vocal interlude by "Little Queenie" Harris. Crisp, clear, and blasé, her laid-back approach contrasts with Clark’s warm ballad feature. Similarly, "Tom’s Buick" is presented as a duet, with both trumpet and piano capturing an up-tempo, barrelhouse style. Trad jazz exists in small towns the world over with bands run by folks who simply enjoy the music. With Kevin Clark, that love of the music’s style carries over as a devotion to top quality.
Personnel: Kevin Clark- trumpet; Tom McDermott- piano; Tim Laughlin- clarinet; Eric Traub- tenor saxophone; Evan Christopher- tenor saxophone, clarinet; Craig Klein, Ben Smith, Dave Woodard- trombone; Freddy Staehle, Richard Taylor- drums; Matt Perrine- sousaphone, electric bass; Everett Link- upright bass; Steve Blailock- guitar; "Big Al" Carson- vocal on "Lucky Dog Blues;" Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris- vocal on "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Stardust;" Milton Rich- vocal on "A Kiss to Build a Dream On."