Is it too late for a "best of 2010" list? This 2010 release, by Bryan and the Haggards, has made several of these lists; while it would be easy to approach these jazz renditions of Merle Haggard tunes as some sort of novelty, that couldn't be farther from what tenor saxophonist Bryan Murray and his quintet have accomplished with this set of country ditties.
The band's namesake, singer/songwriter Merle Haggard, remains a fascinating character in the history of country music. His colorful life (to put it mildly) was capped off by being granted a full pardon by then-Governor Ronald Reagan. Musically, he is known as much for what he is notthe polished sound of Nashville; instead, Haggard helped to define the contrasting "Bakersfield Sound."
Fittingly, the Haggards strip a little more polish off as well. From the opening bars of "Silver Wings," the tone is set by guitarist Jon Lundbom
's down and dirty take on what is a bit of a signature riff for Haggard. His tone and touch are perfect and, by the time that Murray's soars in with Haggard's vocal line, it is clear that this is no novelty; the songs are joyous, even when sad, and the playing is tremendous. There are honky-tonk moments, there are blues, the band plays out, and it swings. There is even a very nice, extended bass solo, complete with scatting, by Moppa Elliott
This is a terrific record, and it takes no time to stop thinking of it as a concept, and just enjoy it. It shouldn't' be a surprise, perhaps, that country tunes can work so well in a jazz setting; after all, in the words of Haggard:
Yeah drink a little beer in a tavern,
Cry a little bit of these working man blues.
Sure sounds like jazz.
Personnel: Bryan Murray: tenor sax; Jon Irabagon: alto sax; Jon Lundbom: guitar;
Moppa Elliot: upright bass; Danny Fischer: drums.