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Andy Biskin Quartet: Early American: The Melodies Of Stephen Foster

Jim Santella By

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Clarinetist Andy Biskin leads his creative quartet through an interesting program of Stephen Foster songs and several originals. As much as possible, he's tried to capture the composer's original intentions.

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-64) was born and raised just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the North. His songs, however, reflected life along the Mississippi River of the old South. His work for his brother's steamship company in Cincinnati undoubtedly had a large influence on the songwriter's trade. He apparently had opportunities to see and to feel firsthand what slavery meant to the general population of early America. He seems to have looked deeply into it and come up with conclusions that he put to song. After so many years, we've forgotten the original plans laid out by Foster in his music. Biskin seeks to turn that situation around.

The musicians combine assertive musical forces with Foster's original themes. In the process, they turn the clock forward to collect many of the changes that have taken place since the 19th Century composer's lifetime. Dixieland, bebop, gospel, country and swing enter the picture, interspersed with collective improvisation that runs free and wild. Tuba, electric guitar, wiry percussion and a hot clarinet give the picture plenty of fire. In the process, they reach back and assist Foster in forming impressions of a Southern lifestyle that needed closer examination. I'm not so sure that Stephen Foster succeeded in that mission, but Andy Biskin and his quartet certainly do. They've given us plenty to think about.

Beautiful Dreamer combines a rich clarinet and trombone lyricism with light melodic daydreams, while Foster's "There's a Good Time Coming morphs into hot jazz/rock on its way to the celebration. "Old Folks at Home features a sizzling guitar, tuba and drums intensity over a dreamy clarinet theme, while "Oh! Susanna darts fast and slow through a maze of traveler's clichés. "Camptown Races swings fast and wholesome over a hot clarinet façade with a fiery guitar interlude, while "Old Black Joe alternates a lovely melodic theme with spasms of rhythmic drive that imply powerful emotion.

Biskin's six originals carry out the same kind of enthusiasm without Foster's memorable melodies. His music is energetic, creative, and at the leading edge of jazz's modern mainstream. Recommended for all ages, Biskin's music puts a smile on the face of modern jazz.


Track Listing: My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!; Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair; Early American; Camptown Races; Journey Cake; Oh! Susanna; Fits and Starts; Hard Times Come Again No More; Nelly Bly; Thin King Thinking; Old Folks At Home; Old Black Joe; Dom Casual; There's a Good Time Coming; Beautiful Dreamer; Kid Proof; Old Folks At Home.

Personnel: Andy Biskin: clarinet; Pete McCann: guitar, banjo; Chris Washburne: trombone, tuba; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion.

Title: Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Strudelmedia

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