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Professor Cunningham and His Old School: The Lockdown Blues

Jack Bowers By

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Professor Cunningham and His Old School: The Lockdown Blues
Given the uncommon position in which the world found itself owing to the global coronavirus pandemic, it was only a matter of time before "socially distanced" albums such as this one, recorded by Australian-born "Professor" Adrian Cunningham's septet "in bedrooms around the world," in April 2020, were bound to emerge. More specifically, in bedrooms in NY state, Vitoria and Girona, Spain, which loosely qualifies as "around the world." The idea came to Cunningham during a socially-distanced stroll through New York's Central Park, when the tune "It's Alright" popped into his head, an anthem of positivity during uncertain times. After recording that song with the band, it was suggested to Rachel Domber at Arbors Records that perhaps a full album might be recorded that way. Once Domber gave the green light, plans for The Lockdown Blues were set in motion.

There were some obstacles to sidestep. For example, pianist Alberto Pibiri lives near a train station on Long Island, and needed to schedule his recordings around the train schedule, while in Manhattan, trumpeter Jon Challoner had to deal with the sounds of ambulance sirens passing by his apartment. Meanwhile, in Spain, drummer Marti Elias had to record virtually in secret to circumvent that country's strict lockdown policy. After that, much of the work of collating the various tracks and sending them to recording engineer Bill Moss for mixing and mastering was in the hands of Cunningham who says he "worked like a mad scientist into the wee hours of the morning" for many weeks.

Cunningham's hard work paid off. Lockdown Blues sounds like it could have been recorded in one bedroom, not many, with all hands on deck. That is as true for the vocal tracks (four) as it is for the instrumentals (six), even including spirited background vocals on "Over in the Gloryland." Professor Cunningham's "Old School" is engaging from the outset, as "Lockdown Blues" summons memories of swing sessions from well over half a century ago, up to and including impressive solos by Cunningham (tenor sax), trombonist Dani Alonso and guitarist John Merrill. Cunningham handles the vocals, starting with the groovy "Quarantine Love Song" and including "It's Alright," "Gloryland" and "I'm Broke and She's Gone." His style is informal and unmannered, the results generally agreeable.

It is the instrumentals, however, that summon the most ardent applause. Besides "Old School," they include four more of Cunningham's original compositions—"Sittin' at Home, Drinkin' Alone," "Six Feet Is Too Far from You," "Lindy Hopper's Lament," "Gimme a Sheet of That Sweet Sweet T.P."—and the Duke Ellington staple, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." Even with their echoes of an earlier era, they are consistently bright and pleasing, as are the solos by Alonso, Merrill, Challoner, bassist Jim Robertson and Cunningham himself (tenor on most numbers, clarinet on the ballad "Six Feet" and the bluesy closer, "Gimme a Sheet"). This is tasteful and happy jazz played as it should be by seven able craftsmen whose interplay is far more cozy than the liner notes suggest.

Track Listing

Lockdown Blues; A Quarantine Love Song; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; It’s Alright; Sittin’ at Home, Drinkin’ Alone; Over in the Gloryland; Six Feet Is Too Far from You; I’m Broke and She’s Gone; Lindy Hopper’s Lament; Gimme a Sheet of that Sweet Sweet TP.

Personnel

Adrian Cunningham: saxophone; Jon Challoner: trumpet; Dani Alonso: trombone; John Merrill: guitar; Alberto Pibiri: piano; Jim Robertson: bass; Marti Elias: drums; Kevin Congleton: percussion.

Album information

Title: The Lockdown Blues | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Arbors Records

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