TRACKLIST & AUDIO
SYNCOPATED TIMES 18.12.2019
Steppin on the Gas
David Horniblow, clarinet, Andrew Oliver, piano, Nicholas D. Ball, percussion. If you’ve been reading my reviews for the last few months you’ll know that this lineup is reason enough to give Steppin’ on the Gas a listen. Add guest turns by Andy Schumm and Martin Wheatley and a vocal appearance by Dee Settlemier (all the way in from Portland) and you’ve got yet another Transatlantic masterpiece coming out of London.
Horniblow’s Hot Three is a sub group of the Vitality Five, the larger group also features guitarist Wheatley and Michael McQuaid on trumpet. But nothing is lost with the tighter focus. The trio plays sprightly and authentic late 20s jazz with a stomping sound full as any five piece band.
As the leader of this unit Horniblow tears it up throughout, solidifying his ranking among the top clarinetists of today — we are blessed with many! (Several, including Horniblow, James Evans, and Ewan Bleach, are from the UK, why is that?)
Andrew Oliver, a well traveled gent originally from Portland, OR but now settled in the UK plays his role perfectly. He’s a spectacularly capable pianist with the ability to fade into the background and lead simultaneously. He lifts Horniblow’s clarinet line, working effortlessly with the percussion. The experience of the recent Horniblow/Oliver Complete Morton Project is evident. Two tracks are indeed from 1929 Morton trio recordings with Barney Biggard and Zutty Singleton.
Nicholas D. Ball is a young expert on ragtime and early jazz drum styles and a collector of rare vintage equipment. He runs the informative website drumsinthetwenties.com. Vintage jazz drumming is about doing more with less and he is a master. When the sound requires he breaks out the washboard. It’s his contribution that I most enjoyed on this album.
Ball uses that washboard on the four tracks at the heart of this record. All are late 20s recordings by clarinetist Jimmie O’ Bryant’s Washboard Band, a relatively obscure Chicago outfit. Andy Schumm joins on cornet for “Hot Hot Hottentot”, Dee Settlemier gives the only vocal on the album for “Brand New Charleston Rag”. Three other tracks come from clarinetist Jimmy Lytell of The Original Memphis Five, and three more are associated with Johnny Dodds. Only two of the 15 tracks are well known, “Careless Love” and “Memphis Blues” being the only tunes you’d be likely to hear over a long festival weekend.
I’ve been happily swimming in albums from this cohort of amazing new stars these last few months. All serious vintage jazz fans owe it to themselves to listen and take heart that the music continues to be played so immersively well.
JAZZ AROUND TIME 06.11.2019
RECENT CLASSIC JAZZ RECORDINGS The Dime Notes & Steppin on the Gas
Although recent recordings of 1920s jazz are largely absent from the review pages of most of the main jazz magazines (as if they did not exist), all eras of jazz are alive and artistically well these days. Due to the proliferation of recordings, there are young musicians all over the world exploring all styles of jazz while seeking to add to the evolution of the music. While the most modern improvisations and approaches deserve plenty of attention, so do the efforts of revivalists and interpreters of obscurities from the past.
These two releases have overlapping personnel and are available from www.lejazzetal.com. Lejazzetal has in recent years emerged as one of the top British vintage jazz labels. Their catalog is well worth exploring, starting with the Dime Notes, and the Horniblow’s Hot 3’s Steppin’ On The Gas.
The Dime Notes consists of pianist-leader Andrew Oliver, clarinetist Dave Horniblow, guitarist Dave Kelbie, and bassist Tom Wheatley. While each of the musicians has experience in other genres, in this group they sound very much like creative and forward-looking artists from the late 1920s. While having an eclectic style and he can sound like an early swing pianist, Oliver can also sound very close to Jelly Roll Morton as he shows on such Morton-associated songs as “Original Jelly Roll Blues” (which is given a Spanish tinge not heard on the original recording), “The Pearls,” “The Crave” and “Turtle Twist.” Clarinetist Horniblow is quite fluent and, while hinting at many predecessors, like Oliver he has his own sound and style within the tradition. Guitarist Kelbie has extensively played Gypsy Swing but in this setting is more of an early rhythm guitarist who takes occasional solo spots while bassist Wheatley is so solid that one never misses the drummer.
In addition to revivals of obscure tunes (including a hot version of Sidney Bechet’s “What A Dream”) and the inclusion of Oliver’s original “Otis Stomp,” it is particularly fun to hear the Dime Notes’ fresh treatments of more familiar material. Why merely recreate the past when one can stretch out and come up with new and inventive versions of classic jazz that keep one guessing?
Horniblow’s Hot 3, which is featured on Steppin’ On The Gas, consists of the clarinetist, pianist Oliver and drummer Nicholas D. Ball (who also plays washboard). There are guest appearances by cornetist Andy Schumm and singer Dee Settlemier on one song apiece and two by guitarist Martin Wheatley (bassist Tom Wheatley’s father), but otherwise the 15 songs are played by the trio. While the two main voices are the same as in the Dime Notes, the sound of the group is a bit different. Ball’s drumming (which sometimes relies a bit on the bass drum while at other times operating as more of a percussionist) hints at Baby Dodds and makes the group sound a bit more primitive and looser than the Dime Notes. There is more of a reliance on Oliver’s left hand since there are no other chordal instruments while Horniblow’s playing in this context reminds one at various times of Johnny Dodds, Jimmy O’Bryant and Jimmy Lytell. Other than “Careless Love” and “Memphis Blues,” the songs are all little-known and include rare revivals of such numbers as “Zulu Wail,” “My Little Dixie Home,” “Missouri Squabble,” “Imagination” (not the well-known swing song), and “Skoodlum Blues.” It sounds very much like a 1920s Chicago group, particularly when Ball is on washboard. While I would give the edge to the Dime Notes, Steppin’ On The Gas is quite fun and recommended to those who like Dodds’ freewheeling trios.
VJM VINTAGE JAZZ MART 15.10.2019
Steppin on the Gas
David Horniblow is a fine contemporary reedman who specializes on clarinet, tenor and bass saxophones; as well as playing bass clarinet and alto sax less often. He exclusively plays clarinet on this issue though and is joined by two equally fine musical comrades in pianist Andrew Oliver and drummer Nicholas D. Ball. Messrs Horniblow (contemporary jazzmen can have cool names too you know!), Oliver and Ball are natives of Reading (Berkshire), Portland (Oregon) and Long Ashton (Somerset) respectively, but live and work mainly out of London. All three are members of another excellent group, ‘The Vitality Five’, and are regulars on British jazz festival programmes. I won’t say they should have been born 90 years earlier as they do more than most to keep the music we love alive today!
They are each their own men musically, but readily pay their dues to the pioneers and reveal their respective influences. David Horniblow has mastered sounds, styles and techniques from players like Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon and Barney Bigard. Andrew Oliver is a virtuoso pianist with a clear affinity for musicians including Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Jimmy Blythe. He is equally at home playing in bands or solo, and with styles ranging from ragtime to stride and beyond. Nick Ball is an excellent percussionist who stays true to the drumming styles of the 1920s and the influences of Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Jasper Taylor and others of this era. Whether playing his full drum kit with sticks or brushes, on washboard or selected traps, Nick rhythmically anchors things precisely and effectively.
Beyond their quality musicianship, all ‘Hot 3’ members are active scholars of the music with impressive credentials and they generously share their work online for free. David and Andrew have recorded all of Jelly Roll Morton’s ninety-four known compositions and also made videos under their YouTube channel ‘Complete Morton Project’ (see Max Easterman’s review above). Nick has his own intriguing website, https://drumsinthetwenties.com/, where he publishes well researched articles on drummers, instruments and other aspects of the craft presented with beautiful photos; as well as fascinating interviews and musical transcriptions.
Nearly all of this CD’s material is drawn from recordings of 1920s liquorice-stick men. The tone and intent of the album are well stated in the first track, Original Memphis Five clarinettist Jimmy Lytell’s Zulu Wail. This is a fine performance demonstrating the high level of musicianship, cohesion and skill sustained throughout. Two further Lytell tracks follow later on, Missouri Squabble and Down Town Fling, and they are joined by their ‘Vitality Five’ band-mate Martin Wheatley on guitar for both. The second and twelfth tracks are nice versions, respectively, of My Little Dixie Home and Smilin’ The Blues Away, originally recorded at the 1929 Jelly-Roll Morton Trio session which featured Morton alongside Barney Bigard on clarinet and Zutty Singleton on drums.
Even though the above five tracks were originally recorded in New York, this album’s music is mainly rooted in the small band jazz of the South Side of Chicago in the mid to late 1920s. No less than four tracks come from the repertoire of the talented, but underrated and short-lived clarinettist Jimmie (or Jimmy) O’Bryant (c.1896-1928). O’Bryant was originally from Arkansas, but did his best known work in Chicago. His recordings under his own name were all made there, and sadly he met his untimely demise from kidney disease, exacerbated by alcoholism, in the Windy City. Hot Hot Hottentot, the title track Steppin’ On The Gas, Brand New Charleston and Skoodlum Blues were all originally recorded by O’Bryant’s ‘Washboard Band’. Nick Ball is in fine dextrous form with his washboard and thimbles for these tracks, and they are augmented by Andy Schumm on cornet for Hot Hot Hottentot, and by vocalist Dee Settlemier for Brand New Charleston. It is encouraging to see this contemporary tribute to O’Bryant’s music; he was a fine, neglected musician.
The Chicago connection is also present with the three tracks featuring music from the great Johnny Dodds with the standard Careless Love, Oh Daddy and Tiny Parham’s 19th Street Blues. David Horniblow has definitely done his homework over the years to produce these fine performances. We also have versions of Fud Livingston’s Imagination and W.C. Handy’s standard Memphis Blues with a surprising Old Man River – style opening. One of the highlights of the CD is their version of a new piece to me, Texas Fox Trot, written by David W. Guion (1892-1981) who was mostly known for arranging and composing cowboy-themed tunes. The trio give this haunting ragtime composition a beautiful chamber jazz treatment
They finish where they started with another Jimmy Lytell piece, Down Town Fling, and the CD romps home with this rousing version of Lytell’s OM5 colleague Frank Signorelli’s composition. Martin Wheatley provides a neat guitar introduction before they stomp off. David jumps effortlessly between registers for the tune’s signature lick, Andrew sounds like he’s sprouted an extra hand or two in his finger-twisting solo while Nick drives them on relentlessly with his propulsive and meticulously timed drumming.
There are two minor things. A few more tracks would be nice, but this is not a reissue, so that is understandable and we definitely get quality. Also, some notes on the band, players and the recordings would be useful. There are details on lejazzetal’s website, but there is no mention of this (or even the actual label!) on the CD sleeve, so the company could do themselves a favour by mentioning their website. The music speaks for itself though and the CD is handsomely packaged with photos and colourful artwork.
Overall, David Horniblow has chosen top quality musicians to play these fine renditions of pieces from famous players alongside those who are all but forgotten. The result is this excellent CD with great variety across the spectrums of control to abandon and soothing to rousing. As soon as you finish reading this review, just go ahead and order it!