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Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part I: New Orleans and Chicago

Karl Ackermann By

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The pianist and bandleader Fate Marable utilized the Mississippi and Ohio River boats to a greater extent than any other jazz musician of the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, little of his work was recorded on or off the paddle-wheelers. The Cool Note label did capture a bit (a scant twenty-four minutes) of some other notable performers of the era on this 2008 release.

Some of the more familiar names captured on Riverboat Jazz are King Oliver's Savannah Syncopators and Jelly Roll Morton's Levee Serenaders. Less known today are Dewey Jackson's Peacock Orchestra, Jimmy Wade & His Dixielanders, and Albert Wynn's Creole Jazz Band. Jackson had worked extensively in Marable's riverboat bands and continued playing on the river into the 1940s. Wade, a trumpeter, and trombonist Wynn recorded no more than three sides each as leaders in 1928, but both had enjoyed extended runs on the riverboat circuit.

Across the board, the tracks on Riverboat Jazz fall into the general area of "hot jazz" in that all display some combination of ragtime, blues, and brass band styles. Solos are limited and each of the six bands (Wynn leads two separate bands on the recording) are at least as rhythmically varied as necessary to maintaining listening interest.

Frank Catalano: Live at the Green Mill (Delmark, 2002)

Tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano was just out of his teens when he recorded his second album You Talkin' To Me?! (Delmark, 2000) with Von Freeman. The Chicago native, whose style of choice has been compared to a latter-day Coltrane, incorporates modern elements that add a personal signature. Catalano's quintet on Live at the Green Mill features Randy Brecker and drummer Paul Wertico.

On the opening piece, "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" Catalano's blistering speed stops just short of spinning out of control. The Benny Golson standard "Killer Joe" take more time to unfold but eventually boils over with hard bop improvisation. The least known of the covers on Live at the Green Mill is the Medeski, Martin and Wood piece "Bubble House." Coltrane's "Impressions," while tailored to the leader, is respectful of the original. Catalano has an enormous sound and unremitting power and he's at home whether riotously swinging or searching in a more emotive vein.

There have been numerous live recordings that bear the "Live at the Green Mill" suffix and they cover an extensive range of styles. Bassist Eric Revis and his quartet, which featured Ken Vandermark, have been at the free improvisation end of the spectrum while the Monday night quartet of Patricia Barber's modern contemporary music embraces the other. The recording quality throughout the series is exceptional.

Fred Anderson: Timeless -Live At the Velvet Lounge (Delmark, 2006)

Shortly before tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson moved his Velvet Lounge from its crumbling South Indiana Avenue location to East Cermak Road, he released Timeless -Live At the Velvet Lounge. Bassist Harrison Bankhead played frequently at the Lounge and had later recorded The Great Vision Concert (Ayler Records, 2007) with Anderson. Drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake was a regular, and long-time Anderson collaborator participating in fifteen recordings dating back to Another Place (Moers, 1978).

The four extended pieces are improvised though Anderson's melodic lines often belie that. When he played without a chordal instrument he was sometimes given to a blustery style meant to fill the void, but on Timeless... he is at his most succinct and focused. Amderson's amazing range of agility has ample time to play out in these pieces that all run in double digits. The twenty-five minute title track that closes the album has Drake and Bankhead fueling Anderson's extended, circuitous improvisations with simmering and continuously changing rhythms.

In a slew of Anderson albums with "Velvet Lounge" in their title, Timeless... stands out as the best of the lot. Drake and Bankhead represented the next generation of transplanted Chicago music, both with substantial modern jazz pedigrees that intersected with that of the saxophonist. The fierce independence with which Anderson honed his unique style is evident in his playing on this album. His personal humility did not manifest itself in his playing, which is nothing, if not powerful.

The 1920s and early 1930s were the prime years of jazz development in Chicago. By the late 20s, the progression had moved on to New York, primarily in Harlem where the renaissance in black culture was developing. Part II of Culture Clubs goes east to the Cotton Club and beyond.

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