Membran: Jammin' At Condon's & From New Orleans to London/New Orleans Joys
Ken Colyer/Chris Barber
Misled by their retro packaging, a listener might unintentionally dismiss both Jammin' At Condon's and From New Orleans to London/New Orleans Joys as irretrievably archaic Dixieland. To do so would be a mistake. Not only do both discs offer fervent, well-played jazz, but also they are valuable reminders of a time, within living memory, when such music was an integral part of American and British pop.
The Eddie Condon Jammin at Condon's session, produced by George Avakian (happily still with us) has never received proper credit as an early, successful effort to merge the new technology of the long-playing record with the creative impulses of improvising musicians. At his Greenwich Village jazz club, guitarist and bandleader Condon encouraged freewheeling jamming; Tuesday nights, in particular, were given over to sessions when visiting stars would form an ad hoc ensemble to play with and against the house band. Avakian thought that the new format was tailor-made for reproducing this loose, expansive playing under high-fidelity conditions. The recording had no trickery, no tape splicing, no faked applause. Even live performances show that Condon's musicians were never given to the displays one might hear at Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. On this disc, the solos (although longer than 78s would allow) are concise and focused, the players sounding their best against propulsive riffs and backgrounds. The original American cover showed the leg (and restorative thermos) of drummer Cliff Leeman, whose joyous work deserves further study. The horns were a brilliant lot, instantly recognizable, including the sharp-edged clarinet of Edmond Hall, Billy Butterfield's lucent trumpet, the lovely foggy timbre of Dick Cary's alto horn, Lou McGarity's shouting trombone exuberance, but there are no dull moments here, especially when the two ensembles get together to roar happily, every voice distinct, showing off the spacious sound of Columbia's famous 30th Street studio. And if a listener bridles at the short (by contemporary standards) playing time, the 40 minutes of jazz on this disc are intensely rewarding, worth the discovery. Quality trumps quantity any day.
Where Condon's men seemed a group of wonderfully idiosyncratic soloists (consider the growling, leaping cornetist Wild Bill Davison as an example), the British trumpeter Ken Colyer led bands that concentrated on the possibilities of ensemble variety and momentum. Rooted more directly in New Orleans traditions, his pianoless sextet on New Orleans to London offers irreplaceable lessons in collective improvisation, the music getting more intense and fascinating each chorus with no player raising his voice or dominating. Both recordings on this disc share the same personnel, with the exception of trumpeter Pat Halcox replacing Colyer on trombonist Chris Barber's New Orleans Joys session. The Condon band drew on the popular repertoire of the '20s and '30s, with blues and ballads for variety; Colyer and Barber went deeper into jazz classics, offering Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard and Duke Ellington material, as well as folk material and the particularly jaunty, percussive skiffle, here exemplified by banjoist/singer Lonnie Donegan's hit, "Rock Island Line." The Colyer session is more satisfying because his nudging, often quiet middle-register playing on "Too Busy" seems the very heart of impassioned jazz improvisation; Halcox is a more technically dazzling player, but his approach, more straightforward, seems predictable. The rhythm section of bassist Jim Bray, Donegan and drummer Ron Bowden is dependably propulsive but never clangorous. And although this music might seem particularly old-fashioned to modern listeners, it is a delicious irony that trad and skiffle were English teen obsessions in the '50s until the Beatles came.
In jazz, to recall William Faulkner, the past isn't dead, it isn't even past and a good thing that is, too.
Tracks and Personnel
Jammin' at Condon's
Tracks: There'll Be Some Changes Made; How Come You Do Me Like You Do; Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me; Tin Roof Blues; Medley: When My Sugar Walks Down The Street / I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me.
Personnel: Wild Bill Davison; cornet; Billy Butterfield; trumpet; Dick Cary: alto horn; Lou McGarity; trombone; Cutty Cutshall; trombone; Edmond Hall; clarinet; Peanuts Hucko; clarinet; Bud Freeman; tenor saxophone; Gene Schroeder; piano; Al Hall; string bass; Cliff Leeman; drums.
New Orleans to London/New Orleans Joys
Tracks: Goin' Home; Isle of Capri; Harlem Rag; La Harpe Street; Stockyard Strut; Cataract Rag; Early Hours; Too Busy; Bobby Shaftoe; Chimes Blues; Rock Island Line; The Martinique; New Orleans Blues; John Henry; Merrydown Rag; Stevedore Stomp.
Personnel: Ken Colyer; trumpet (1-8), vocal (1); Pat Halcox, trummpet (9-10, 12-13, 15-16); Chris Barber; trombonem bass (11, 14); Monty Sunshine: clarinet; Jim Bray; string bass; Lonnie Donegan; banjo, vocal (11, 14); Ron Bowden; drums; Beryl Bryden; washboard (11, 14).