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Clarence Williams: Washboard Bands: 1926-29, "Gimme Blues"

Andrew J. Sammut By

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New Orleans native and musical jack-of-all-trades Clarence Williams enjoyed success on multiple levels of the music business, with washboard ensembles just one part of his extensive discography. Even without the timbral variety of a full drum set, the washboard crafts simple but effective rhythms. A chattering backbeat on "Wait 'Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston" opens the disc with driving clarinet and the leader's piano chimes never pining for cymbals or skins. "You For Me, Me For You" stomps with an irresistible groove, while "Whoop It Up" struts like a hot summer parade.

Three different washboarders each play in their own unique style: Floyd Casey is easygoing and stays in the background, while Jasper Taylor scrapes and taps with agitated, extroverted flash. Taylor's sudden switch to a rigid march beat on "I've Found A New Baby" also reveals a sense of humor, and Bruce Johnson arranges several percussive textures for "Dark Eyes."

Ed Allen plays heroic lead over this household percussion. His big, warm cornet is soaked in the blues and crisply captured by Frog's engineers. "Livin' High" and "My Own Blues" are just two examples of Allen's soulful, straightforward melodicism throughout this album. Yet his rhythmically liberated lines on "I've Found A New Baby" scorch, and "Nobody But My Baby Is Gettin' My Love" showcases his smoldering wah- wah technique. Allen's sadly neglected, pre-Louis Armstrong horn may lack the trumpet icon's imagination, but still warrants greater attention.

Bennie Morton's ebullient clarinet skips alongside Allen on most tracks, with obscure Puerto Rican reedman Carmello Jari taking his place for four sides. Four tracks feature an unknown cornetist and clarinetist on more arranged, commercially oriented tunes. Brief vocals, ranging from Armstrong-inspired scatting to operetta imitations, usually last just one chorus and never get in the way.

Williams plays piano on all 26 tracks, and while he could never compete with contemporaries such as Earl Hines or James P. Johnson, he accompanies with steady time and solid harmonies. Williams also knew how to direct his music and musicians towards a variety of ends. "Cushion Foot Stomp," a Williams original recorded numerous times throughout his career, is heard here first as a spacious drag, and then revisited with a more cutting feel on top of Cyrus St. Clair's tuba. An alternate take of "Wait 'Till You See My Baby..." also demonstrates Williams' ingenuity with repeated material.

The sound of a washboard might spark images of red suspenders and straw hats, yet this collection eschews nostalgia. Frog simply (and beautifully) presents early jazz artists using an unusual instrument to make music; in other words, jazz musicians creating with an open mind just as they do today.

Track Listing: Wait Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston; Livin' High; Wait Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston #3; You For Me, Me For You; My Own Blues; Boodle Am #4; Boodle Am #7; I've Found A New Baby; Senorita Mine; Charleston Hound; How Could I Be Blue?; Old Folks Shuffle #2; Old Folks Shuffle #3; Dark Eyes; Gimme Blues; King Of The Zulus; The Zulu Blues; Nobody But My Baby Is Gettin' My Love; Candy Lips; Anywhere Sweetie Goes #4; Cushion Foot Stomp #3; Cushion Foot Stomp; Take Your Black Bottom Outside; High Society; High Society #C; Whoop It Up.

Personnel: Clarence Williams: piano, vocal (19, 22, 23); Ed Allen: cornet (1-13, 18-26); Bennie Morton: clarinet (1-13, 18-19), alto sax (8-10); Carmello Jari: clarinet, alto sax (20-23); Jasper Taylor: washboard (1-13); Bruce Johnson: washboard (14-17); Floyd Casey: washboard (18-26); Clarence Todd: vocal (4-8,11,14-16); Clarence Lee: vocal (20, 21); Cyrus St. Clair: tuba (22,23); Unknown: cornet (14-17); Unknown: clarinet (14-17, 24-26); Unknown: trombone, banjo, tom-tom (16, 17).

Title: Washboard Bands: 1926-29, "Gimme Blues" | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Frog Records

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