Maybe you're not the type of American comfortable shouting "USA...USA...USA!" at sporting events. You might though, reconsider the prohibition after listening to clarinetist Andy Biskin
and 16 Tons' Songs From The Alan Lomax Collection
. If you know your history you're aware the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, beginning just before WWII, recorded (and preserved) folk and blues music in North America. Criss-crossing the states, he safeguarded our traditional music, much of which would have been lost to time. Consider, for a moment, the loss to the world if we had never heard Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, or Woody Guthrie.
In 1960 Lomax published 317 songs in the anthology, The Folk Songs of North America, the source of inspiration for Biskin, a former research assistant to Lomax in the mid-1970s. While steeped in modern jazz, Biskin, (like Bill Frisell
), has always been partial to Americana. He recorded Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster
(strudelmedia), and he seems to ooze folk music, from blues to polkas, New Orleans brass, and funk. He is, perhaps, the modern equivalent to Carl Stalling, the man who scored most of Warner Brother's animated classic cartoons.
With his ensemble 16 Tons, another piano-less and bass-less group (like The Spokes and his Trio Tragico, Ibid and quartet), he reimagines American folk with three trumpets: John Carlson, Kenny Warren, and Dave Smith and drummer Rob Garcia
. This opens up the interactions between players and harkens back to early 20th century folk recordings where the bass could not be captured to phonograph cylinders. What is captured here is the jubilation and triumph of a people's spirit. The grace of "Sweet Betsy from Pike" gives way to the sly children's song "Grey Goose." His interpretations pass through a jazz artist's lens, slipping quotes from familiar songs (dig a reference to Thelonious Monk
on "Blue Tail Fly") into the mix. Like Bugs Bunny singing Wagner or Rossini, Biskin makes tradition palatable, even tasty. Highlights include a bubbly take on the murder/revenge song "Tom Dooley," the Raymond Scott
-inspired precise "Muskrat," a straight take of the spiritual "Am I Born to Die?," and a get-up-and-dance version of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." If Biskin's undertaking is to wipe our blues away, mission accomplished.
Sweet Betsy from Pike; Grey Goose; Blue Tail Fly; Down in the Valley; House Carpenter; Go Fish; Lily
Munroe; Tom Dooley; Muskrat; Knock John Booker; Am I Born to Die?; She'll Be Comin’ Round the
Mountain; Sweet Betsy from Pike (Reprise).
Andy Biskin: clarinet, bass clarinet; John Carlson: trumpet; Dave Smith: trumpet; Kenny Warren: trumpet;
Rob Garcia: drums.