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

Mark Corroto By

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From the bandstand, the leader calls out, "...and now, folks, we're going to play you a tune written 150 years ago. Wait. What? Are you kidding? Nobody wants to hear the Britney Spears track that was huge five years ago!

But then again, in the cultural evolutionary battle of the fittest, the music of Stephen Foster (1826-64) continues to survive. "Camptown Races, "Oh!, Susanna, and "Old Folks At Home swim upstream into the collective consciousness of generation after generation. While never considering the source of these musical expressions, they form the basis of an ongoing dialogue. They finish statements like a shave and a haircut... two bits.

Clarinetist Andy Biskin's quartet with guitar/banjo, tuba/trombone, and percussion slides into this music like an old glove. The band does take liberties, as any good jazz improviser is licensed to do, but at the heart of this recording is the American musical landscape. Biskin's 2000 recording Dogmental (GM) was a superb introduction to his sharp wit and his composing.

With this project, he meshes six originals with Stephen Foster compositions which remind listeners that they probably first heard this music as soundtracks to cartoons or as parts of black-and-white movies. His quartet of very sympathetic players deals with the humor, but very little camp. Guitarist Pete McCann is quite the chameleon, switching from rock to rhumba and swing to fusion without breaking a sweat, while the most clever drummer working today, John Hollenbeck, is a master of propelling the odd instrumentation. Biskin also employs Chris Washburne as his timekeeper on tuba and alter ego on trombone.

They remake "Beautiful Dreamer with cascading repetition, and the very straight rendition of "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair is downright hummable. "Camptown Races swings with an almost urban smartness. We all somehow know these songs. While listening, I continue to picture Yosemite Sam (of Warner Brothers cartoon fame) strolling into some saloon to be thoroughly embarrassed by one very rascally rabbit.


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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