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CD/LP/Track Review

Bobby Gordon and Dave McKenna: Clarinet Blue

By Published: January 1, 2001
Clarinetist Bobby Gordon and pianist Dave McKenna have teamed up with Frank Tate and Joe Ascione to produce a quartet recording that is soulful in a low-key, swinging way. Gordon plays a rich toned, introspective clarinet with an emotional range that incorporates hesitancies and doubts, which plays off well against the seemingly casual virtuosity of McKenna. In fact, the setting brings out some of the best in McKenna as he plays in a more pared down, single note style quite different from what a listener might expect who is only familiar with his renowned solo work.

Gordon’s darkly, beautiful opening clarinet solo to the title track "Clarinet Blue" inspires an equally striking response from McKenna. This is part of what makes this recording so good: Gordon’s opening tone-setting solos, ably accompanied by McKenna, followed by a vivid McKenna reply. All of this rides above the subtle, responsive bass and drums duet of Frank Tate and Joe Ascione. Those who know Dave McKenna as the soloist with a rollicking left hand that seems to rise out of the depths of the earth will be continually tweaked by what he can do as an accompanist in a small group context.

Deep listening is evident throughout this recording. Bassist Frank Tate’s solos are consistently attuned to the emotional climate of the tunes. His solo on "I Cried For You" is outstanding. Drummer Joe Ascione helps keep everyone on course, adding his own imaginative solos. This is a recording that gets better and better with repeated listening. Clarinet Blue will be especially interesting to those who enjoy the dynamics of a thoughtful rhythm section and a laid back solo exchange. This is small group swing, indeed.

Track Listing: It's Been So Long; Ja-Da; I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate; You're Driving Me Crazy; You Turned the Tables on Me; Clarinet Blue; Rosetta; Poor Butterfly; Louisiana; Sweet Lorraine; I Cried For You; Sweet Adeline; Beale Street Blues; I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good; On a Slow Boat to China; Ballin' the Jack; Gotta Be This or That.

Personnel: Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Dave McKenna, piano; Frank Tate, bass; and Joe Ascione, drums.

Record Label: Arbors Records

Style: Dixieland/New Orleans/Swing

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