Back in December 1964, pianist Bob Greene, cornetist Ernie Carson, tubaist Shorty Johnson and banjoist Steve Larner went into the studio to record this set of New Orleans tunes. The music was played by groups larger than a quartet, but size did not matter; the four filled the music with a sense of tradition that has stood the test of time.
The band members have an interesting history. Greene recorded for Blue Note in 1951 and later went to work as a documentary maker for the United States Information Agency, a career he was pursuing when he recorded this album. Carson, who started on Trumpet, doubled as a pianist in a banjo band. He was the cornetist in the Castle Jazz Band, which he would later lead, when he was called upon to join the group. Johnson began playing the tuba in 1950 but he was underage when jazz first made an impact on him. He listened to the music from the men's room because he was too young to get into the club next door. Larner was a cameraman when Greene came calling. All continued to pursue their muse after this record, playing in different bands. But from the moment this collaboration took place in 1964, the quartet nailed it square on the head, raising the music to a delightful plateau.
Recorded at the Preservation Hall, the selections draw on Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy and Joseph "King" Oliver as well as traditional tunes that balances this fine program. Five selections have been released for the first time on this CD.
Greene was influenced by Morton and while the traits are discernible, he has his own anvil on which to shapes his direction. He drives the musical terrain with Carson, whose bold intonations and punchy punctuation add a swath of color. Their voices are enhanced by Larner, who keeps the banjo tripping lightly with the melody, lending a resolute sparkle on his solo outings. Johnson takes the tuba out of the context of a rhythm instrument, dips it into the melody and drinks from it, making him an effective fourth voice.
After swaying the way through a catchy "St. Peter Street Strut," the quartet gets the blues to flare up and cry on "Winin' Boy Blues." Carson creates an earthy atmosphere with his burning lines while Greene builds an adjunct with cool, lyricism. It's beautifully conceived and developed. The CD closes with the previously unreleased "Atlanta Blues" a more deliberate incantation of the form, but one which is given an eloquence with the musicians' temperate approach.
"Snake Rag" is a greater collective effort that bounces and flounces around with an irresistible appeal that is also injected with zest into the sashaying "Kansas City Stomp." But even in the high-flying moments of the latter the group pulls back the pulse on the quick, its spontaneity speaking of the empathy that drove the band, and, in the final analysis, making this CD a treasure.
Personnel: Bob Greene: piano; Ernie Carson: cornet; Shorty Johnson: tuba; Steve