Vocalist Retta Christie exists at the curious intersection of country & western, swing and film music. Country music and jazz may seem strange bedfellows, but bedfellows they have been since the 1920s and bandleaders Spade Cooley and Bob Wills, Jay McShann
and Count Basie
all slumming together in Great Plains dance halls. It is from this rich loam of land in the middle of the United States that Christie's material comes from. But don't expect "Rose of San Antoine." Christie's repertoire is beautifully esoteric. Her voice is clean and clear, with the wholesome scrubbed goodness of a Dale Evans.
If Chrisie's huge talent and encyclopedic musical mind are not enough, she is supported by the Great American Songbook's own David Frishberg
. Known more for his witty and piquant lyrics, Frishberg is also a student the older styles of jazz piano, like those called for in this current repertoire. These recordings are important because they frame Frishberg as a supremely competent accompanist whose personality is perfectly suited to the songs. With Frishberg is reedsman David Evans
, whose tenor saxophone (and clarinet) is throughly informed by the Ben Webster
/ Lester Young
school of swing. Mix 'em altogether and you have a master's class in 1930's music.
Retta Christie with David Evans and David FrishbergRetta Christie with David Evans and David FrishbergSelf Produced
"Cheatin' on Me" opens the disc and immediately sets the creative tone. Composed in the mid-1920s by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack, "Cheatin'" bounces beautifully over the stride-side piano of Frishberg. Christie is in bright voice, crisply enunciating like a militant speech pathologist...a good thing. She sings straight: no scat or vocalese here. She is intent on teaching the listening public of the pleasures of obscure chestnuts and little heralded repertoire.
The best description of this recital is "intelligently quaint" and this is not intended as a back-handed compliment. Music performance intent on period capture is simply a sonic updating of material previously only available as sepia-tones and clicks and scratches. Gratefully, Christie does not try to put an old spin on newer material, instead concentrating on lesser known songs deserving of attention. She is well-versed on this material vocally in the same way Evans and Frishberg are instrumentally. They all can summon spirits from this music in a fresh and vibrant manner.
While these songs will never be confused with the best of Tin Pan Alley, they do represent a subset that parallels in human terms the friends of the great European composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. When an enthusiast has heard all they can stand of the masters, they will often turn to the master's friends. For Bach, the fan may check out Biber or Buxtehude; for Beethoven it might be Hummel, and for Mozart it might be Clementi. There is always more music to consider.
So it is with the material Christie and company excel in on this recording. It may not be the Gershwin brothers or Rodgers and Hammerstein, but these tunes have an undeniable charm. Harry Revel and Mack Gordon's "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking" from the movie Sitting Pretty
(1934) sounds as new as spring and hopefully in love as sophomores in high school. Evans plays clarinet as if channeling the breathy vibratolessness of Lester Young. Master composer (and present pianist) Frishberg provides his contemporary "Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue," composed as if heard from a time travel-able Victrola. And these set the ambiance of the recording. This recording is successful because of the dedication the musicians have to the material and the value they give it as evidenced by their performances.
Retta Christie with David Evans and David FrishbergRetta Christie with David Evans and David Frishberg, Volume 2Self Produced
The traction that Retta Christie, David Evans and Dave Frishberg gained with their initial survey of erstwhile cowboy tunes parlayed itself into this Volume 2
. Christie moves more into the jazz realm covering two standards and borrowing some esoterica from the songbook of Billie Holiday
. As on Volume 1
, Christie and company capture the antique tone of the music, presenting it in crystalline digital finery.
Christie sings with a voice full of sunshine, bright and clean. The performances (both releases) have a relaxed feel suggesting Broadway composers performing their own songs. It is beautifully stripped down, baring the essentials of harmony and melody. Frishberg employs his vast knowledge of stride piano to great effect on "Old Folks" and "For All We Know." Evans excels on clarinet on "'Neath The Purple on the Hill" and "For All We Know." His tenor saxophone on "Foolin' Myself" illustrates the short evolution of the instrument from Lester Young to acolyte Al Cohn
, hardening the steady tone of Young, while filling in the lightness Cohn.
Christie has done a most tasteful job breathing life into old tunes. Her's could be considered a period interpretation of the popular music of the 1920s and 1930s and she could not have chosen better partners to effect such treatments.
Visit David Evans
and Dave Frishberg
on the web.
Tracks and PersonnelMusic
Tracks: Cheatin' On Me; Yearning Just for You; Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?; Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue; Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You); The Thrill Is Gone; Louise; I'll String Along With You; On Treasure Island; This Cold War With You; Lost; Ridin' Down the Canyon.
Personnel: Retta Christie: vocals; David Evans: reeds; Dave Frishberg: piano. Joy Spring
Tracks: I Get the Blues When It Rains; Foolin' Myself; My Mother's Eyes; Old Folks; 'Neath the Purple On the Hills; Only A Rose; Sweet and Slow; You Always Hurt the One You Love; A Sailboat In the Moonlight; For All We Know; I Only Want A Buddy Not A Sweetheart; The Lonesome Road.
Personnel: Retta Christie: vocals; David Evans: reeds; Dave Frishberg: piano.