JUST JAZZ UK 02.01.2021
Art of the New Orleans Trio
City Park Swing; Hello, Goodbye Blues; The Cascades; Trios Danses Des Jeunes; Meet Me At The Eagle Saloon; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; Alone At The Ball; Old Sober March; You’ll Be Crying The Blues, Not Me; Where A True Heart Waits For You; Follow The Second Line; Lonesome Me
Evan Christopher (clarinet) on all tracks, with (tracks 1-6) Kris Tokarski (piano), Benny Amon (drums) and (tracks 7-12) Don Vappie (guitar), Peter Harris (bass), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet, track 12 only)
Clarinet-led trios have a long and distinguished history in Jazz, going back to Jelly Roll Morton with the Dodds Brothers (1927) and with Barney Bigard and Zutty Singleton (1929). Mr. Jelly probably gave the idea to young Benny Goodman who recorded with a trio in 1928 and – most famously – in the thirties with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa.
Evan Christopher is a (relatively) young man steeped in the classic New Orleans clarinet tradition and with a love of the trio format, which he explores in two different manifestations on this CD: the ‘standard’ trio with clarinet, piano and drums and the more unusual clarinet, guitar and bass, line-up.
In his notes, Christopher names his favourite trios as Louis Cottrell Jr with Emanuel Sayles and bassist McNeal Breaux; Darnell Howard with Don Ewell and drummer Minor Hall; and Omar Simeon with Sammy Price and Zutty Singleton (that should give readers at least a rough idea of what to expect).
All but three of the tracks are original compositions by Christopher, although as he freely admits, some are not that original: “Some of the songs are based upon chord progressions of well-worn standards, some are amalgams of two or three songs. My intent was to create songs that could have been composed a century ago, or that sound familiar because of their musical D.N.A.”
The result is, in my opinion, a complete success with plenty of variety, a lot of subtlety together with what Christopher calls “the propulsive drive that is a hallmark of the New Orleans Tradition.” Christopher’s partners are all of the highest calibre, and I hesitate to single out any in particular, but have to mention Kris Tokarski’s Mortonesque piano and Don Vappie’s swinging guitar. They are joined on one track (Lonesome Me – one of Fats Waller’s lesser-known compositions and a slow, tender beauty) by trumpeter Jon-Eric Kellso, turning the trio into a quartet.
This is music with deep roots in an old tradition, but it looks forward too: it’s fresh, imaginative and adventurous. With people like Evan Christopher and his friends on the scene, the future of traditional New Orleans jazz is assured.
SYNCOPATED TIMES US 25.10.2020
Art of the New Orleans Trio
Evan Christopher is serious about New Orleans jazz. Our cover profile of him highlighted his commitment to high order artistic expression from within a set of musical devices available to that jazz tradition. “Artistically”, he says in the liner notes to his new album “the real challenge is not only to use [the] vocabulary responsibly but to make it contemporary at the same time.”
Christopher’s career is a force of will, and he has an ambitious recording schedule to prove it. His latest release for Jazzology explores The Art of the New Orleans Trio with two classic instrumentations featured. The first half of the 12 track album finds him with Kris Tokarski on piano and Benny Amon on drums. Both are among the young musicians who have flocked to the city since Hurricane Katrina. The rest of the album has him with Don Vappie on guitar and Peter Harris on bass. Both have long local careers behind them.
The result is not a sense of two contrasting albums but simply a shift in tone. The pump of piano and drums has an easy energy giving the feel of a full New Orleans band. With a guitar and bass backing it is harder to lift out of the café jazz vibe but this threesome is up to the task. The local heat, the “elasticity of the beat”, as Christopher puts it, is maintained throughout.
All but three tracks are original compositions. Christopher consciously adopted chord progressions from standards or elements of several songs to encourage a feeling of easy familiarity. For example, “Meet Me At The Eagle Saloon” draws on “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”, creating a similar melancholy. The title fits the composition, especially if you know the role the Eagle Saloon played in early jazz.
Several titles reference New Orleans, including “City Park Swing” and “Follow The Second Line”, (the only one of the bunch Christopher wrote earlier than 2016). They achieve an authentic feel, and titles like “Alone At The Ball” and “You’ll Be Cryin’ The Blues, Not Me” are convincing enough to fool a sheet music collector.
The trio format allows for deep interplay and plenty of time for all concerned. Evan is certainly one of our leading clarinetists with an intuitive grasp of the creole clarinetists he emulates. Kris Tokarski impresses, and has an comfortable report with Ammon on drums. The first section ends with one of the three standards, a romping “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” that concludes with a particularly nice clarinet run.
Vappie builds a natural heat throughout the second half of the album, and Harris nails both ensemble play and solos. This isn’t an “ice sculpture” gig, the trio demand full attention and if there’s blood left in you you’ll be moved. “Old Sober March” is particularly invigorating. The final track breaks the trio format with the inclusion of Jon-Erik Kellso playing trumpet on “Lonesome Me”, it’s an outtake from his new release recorded during the same sessions.
While Evan expresses a preference in his liner notes for not lugging around drums and worrying about out of tune pianos I personally enjoyed hearing the two younger players put to the test. That said, the skillful ease of experience brought to the second half of the album will find many who prefer it. This is a high quality record deserving of the attention the Jazzology label can bring it.