Oscar Klein is a major figure in Europe’s traditional jazz scene. In 1997 he toured with a quartet, including Romano Mussolini and Jazzpoint Records’ Jan Jankeje. When the tour ended, they entered a studio; eight hours later they had this album. Ignored the speed: this sounds carefully planned, and Oscar is up to the challenge. With four instruments, classic tunes, and ever-changing moods, he lets you know he’s the star of the show.
Klein starts with “Oscar’s Theme”, on trumpet – he’s mute, but how he shouts! The sound is forceful like Dizzy’s mute; the tone is delightfully warm. His solo is alone with Jankeje; the bass walks, Oscar struts. No screams or fury; just relaxed confidence that swings. The cymbals come in and lastly piano; Oscar stays where he is as the others get into line. Mussolini’s solo winks, simple and gentle with a rolling right hand. Oscar comes back open, with a gritty growl met by the old-fashioned drums. The music soars, and Oscar should win one.
We’re all set to hear more trumpet, and Oscar gives us his guitar. “Stardust” is a lazy river, the clear notes floating on Jankeje’s rubbery bass. Hightoned and lyrical, he takes a mandolin strum at the end and then descends, adding distortion and a metallic sound. The tune ends; the mandolin comes back. Lovely; how else to play “Stardust”? “Swinging for Mezz” comes in with a boogie beat, and a slurring clarinet. Actually, he sounds more like Pee Wee than Mezzrow; Mezz’ distinctive triplets are not to be heard. Mussolini is again simple and direct, making every note count. Jankeje brings the modern sound to his solo, then returns to walking. It works, to my surprise – this is a very cohesive group, and their album belies any notion of spur-of-the-moment.
Lush piano and shimmering chords greet us on “Last Lost Love”, a solo feature for Mussolini. It’s his tune, and a great one: it sounds dramatic without being melo dramatic, and that ain’t easy. The echo at the end is a dream. Yes, more trumpet at last, on – “Salute to Gene Krupa”? Oscar is grainy and brassy, leading straight to Gregor Beck’s solo. He starts very simple: the development takes a while, but it’s there all right. The solo turns into “Sing Sing Sing” and washes on a bed of cymbals. Salute thus made, “Blue Reed” is very much at ease. Slurring and sliding without dirty tone, Klein sounds more like Mezzrow than he did on “Swinging for Mezz”. Mussolini solos alone, perfect for this kind of late-night blues. The ending turns suddenly sweet and piano gets tender to join clarinet – they are blue no more.
And just as suddenly the blues return. Oscar grabs the harmonica and goes all trebly, with a bunch of slides and the like. He truly has a separate voice for each of his horns – no easy task. Mussolini surges gently, using Red Garland chords for a moment. When Oscar returns, it’s on trumpet, and every bit as raucous. This carries on to “The Saints”, with changing voices: Oscar is bold, Romano laid-back, Jankeje modern, and Oscar brings back the gusto, aided by a frantic Beck. “Blind Blake’s Rag” is another guitar, and another sound. Jankeje twangs simply, and Oscar lays on top easily, with a folksy feel and a gentle ease. It’s like two guitars – lovely. And “Indiana” starts at ballad pace, the trumpet showing more volume and less rasp. Beck takes off, and everyone joins him. Mussolini goes heavy on the chords, with a little bit of stride. Jankeje has his best solo, a fat low tone that makes him another horn. And Oscar growls with the best of ‘em. It’s gentle, vari! ed, happy, and why yes, it does swing. Good show.