While I know that I'm far from having heard everything there is to hear, style wise, in jazz music, I DID think that I'd heard just about everything I was going to be interested in. Well, chalk one up for Mr. Rich Norman for exposing me to a combination I had never even thought of, let alone heard : rock-a-billy jazz.
Live At Parker's is an independently produced and distributed disc showcasing a live show by Rich Norman and The Kind in Amsterdam in 1994. From the opening runs of "All The Things You Are", Norman and the boys whisk the listener away on a guitar-boogie-jazz ride that grooves and swings at every turn. Norman leads the group from behind the drums, and along with the bassist propels the group through their numbers at a near breakneck pace. Jim Luttrell shines from the guitar spot, producing a groove that is surpassed in quality only by the beautiful tone he coaxes from his instrument.
As a unit, the trio rip through a set of standards that includes "Caravan," "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Cherokee" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Most songs are taken at a quicker than normal tempo, with the drums and bass pumping like a well-tuned engine. The rock-a-billy feel that this tempo gives works surprisingly well with the standards. Norman is extremely busy at the drum kit, offering up riffs, fills, and rhythmic variances that lend to the busy feel of the music. Luttrell carries the melodies of most of the songs, offering up interesting musical ideas while keeping the tune true. The bassist, of whose name I'm not sure, supports expertly throughout, and sounds as if he'd spent some time with the Rev. Horton Heat before this gig.
All of the standards work, with "Caravan," "Cherokee" and "All The Things You Are" coming off the strongest. On "Caravan," Norman and the bassist lay down a quick groove, while Luttrell picks his way through the mysterious melody. The quick pace brings an unique energy to this laid-back classic. "Cherokee" cooks as it should, and "All The Things You Are" swings while maintaining its lyric quality. For fun, the trio zips through a funked up version of the "Flintstone's Theme" that would have made Fred proud. "Jimmy Luttrell & His Amazing Guitar Boogie" is as advertised, and delights with a romp through a throw-down. Luttrell is especially impressive throughout, showing off a feel for the musical flow that balances Norman's need for speed and the lyrical integrity of the song.
This disc really surprised me. When I received it in the mail, I read the attached letter from Norman, and in passing, checked out the tracks he mentioned in the letter. I wasn't overly impressed at first, by the unique treatment of "Caravan" beckoned another listen. The more I listened, the more I liked. Luttrell is very impressive throughout, and Norman shows off an almost over-developed dexterity for rhythm. Norman comes up with several interesting fills and riffs, but at times seems a little too busy, never allowing a measure to end without a fill. His solos show off an almost over-developed dexterity for rhythm, extending out into long technical prowess shows. Norman's sound is surprisingly good for a live show, and his sound if often reminiscent of Dave Weckel, who I'd guess is one of Norman's heros. Weckel's not really my cup of tea, so parts of Norman's solos lose my interest, but will impress other drummers I'm sure.
Overall, I found this disc enjoyable and it's been in my stack for two weeks. Already a fan of rock-a-billy, this genre seems to be made for me. For the regular jazz listener, I'd highly suggest this disk for fans of great jazz guitar. Drum freaks too, who'll enjoy Norman's tricks and talent. I've always been a standards fan, and hearing them done in a new style that brings a unique take on the songs while still respecting their "essence" excites me. This disc will probably excite you too.
NOTE - This disc was recorded and produced independently by Rich Norman. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this disc, see Norman's web site www.europa.com/~squash/ and ordering information is available. Be sure to indicate "Parker's" when you order, as Norman has multiple discs for sale.