2019 – LJCD21
Two big names of the vintage jazz style tackle neglected masterpieces by the first great jazz composer, Jellyroll Morton
ANDREW OLIVER – PIANO
DAVID HORNIBLOW – CLARINET, BASS SAX, BASS CLARINET, ALTO
THE SYNCOPATED TIMES 21.07.2019
The Complete Morton Project
The Complete Morton Project refers not to the completeness of this particular album but to the lofty goal of its participants to learn and record as a duo all 93 of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions, including his rarest.
In 2018, they began posting YouTube videos of their arrangements recorded in an apartment and the delicacy and buoyancy of their performances attracted jazz fans the world over. Both musicians on the screen were however already established and well known in the field. They’ve even played together in The Dime Notes, and more recently The Vitality Five, highly respected traditional jazz bands with slightly different focuses.
Andrew Oliver is a pianist from Portland Oregon who got his start in classical piano, fell in love with ragtime and early jazz, and studied music at Loyola in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina. In 2007 he toured Africa with Jazz at Lincoln Center. When he got home he founded the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble and toured with groups playing both modern chamber jazz and traditional jazz before relocating to London in 2013 and concentrating his efforts solely on the early styles. He draws on the greats for inspiration which made this project a natural fit. In fact, the light bulb went off when he and Horniblow were rehearsing yet another Morton piece to add to the repertoire of their full band.
David Horniblow is from Reading in the UK and studied classical clarinet. He started his jazz career playing swing and modern styles, but his first fascination had been early Duke Ellington. He followed up an opportunity to play with Keith Nichol’s by joining the Chris Barber Band. He’s played with Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, and all the legends of British Trad still active during his tenure. In addition to his work with The Dime Notes and The Vitality Five, he leads Horniblow’s Hot Three and appears with a number of other traditional jazz acts active around London.
Though this project may have started on YouTube this album was recorded in a professional studio under the best circumstances. Oliver had use of a Steinway grand piano, Horniblow occasionally grabs the rarely heard bass sax. Having the Youtube versions available is no reason not to treat yourself to this disc. Comparing both gave me a fine appreciation of what a studio offers, even at the expense of that spontaneous bedroom feel. The pure musical beauty on display in the videos suffers not at all for the better acoustics.
Extensive liner notes written by Andrew Oliver accompany attractive packaging from the lejazzetal label. They explain that to explore the Morton compositions is to explore the very earliest stew of New Orleans jazz, including elements of blues, Spanish influences from the Caribbean, the inspirations of ragtime improvisers, and the musical understanding of classically trained Creoles like Morton himself. While Morton’s claim to have invented jazz is dubious he was the first of the great jazz composers, and because most even into the early 20s weren’t putting their jazz creations to paper his record is an important glimpse at the past and a continuing source of inspiration for those wishing to explore it.
“Morton’s early compositions… show an advanced compositional mind at work, creating unique and complex forms, sweeping melodies and potent counterpoint and, most importantly, allowing for improvisation and variation in a true jazz style, all before 1920!”
This 15 track release includes the most obscure Morton while also covering the full length of his career. “Good Old New York” has Morton sliding into the 30s tin pan alley pop market. To draw attention to the Spanish tinge they include “Mamanita”, dedicated to a lady Morton pursued at two different stages of his life. “Jungle Blues” is a one-chord tour de force that shows him decades ahead of his time. Oliver and Horniblow play it with the power of a full orchestra. In fact, they amaze with the depth, nuance, and rhythm they draw out of each of these titles.
Covering everything as a duo leads to some unusual situations. Late in his career, shortly before his death, Morton wrote some arrangements for big band that were only unearthed in the 90s. They have since been recorded at the proper scale but for this album, one of them, “Gan Jam”, had to be pared down to fit a piano duo. “Croc-O-Dile Cradle” was only recently discovered in Vince Giordano’s massive collection of arrangements. The Fat Babies recorded it for their band but we hear it here in concentrated form.
Not everything on the disc is a rarity, they lead off with the familiar “Shreveport Stomp”. It’s a smart way to bring the audience on board. Late in the album, they also include “Black Bottom Stomp” and “Mr. Jelly Lord”, which captures Morton’s famous braggadocio.
This is an album of pure traditional jazz that is getting well deserved recognition far beyond our walled confines, and for good reason. Oliver and Horniblow play with a freshness and creativity within the style that is undeniable even to those who wouldn’t normally have ears to hear. What these two accomplish with these compositions is a testament to Morton’s greatness but also to their own unquestionable talent and to the power of jazz itself to be ever new, raw, and moving.
JAZZ WAX 10.07.2019
The Complete Morton Project
New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton is widely considered to be jazz’s first arranger. Though jazz was considered an improvised form early on, Morton proved that jazz could retain its joyous, freewheeling feel even when scored on music paper. He also was jazz’s first published composer. His Jelly Roll Blues was published in 1915. As a composer, Morton was a powerful force, writing the standards King Porter Stomp, Wolverine Blues and Black Bottom Stomp. He also was among the first jazz musicians to be ripped off in a sizable way.
Despite having written dozens of songs that had been recorded and performed with great success by other leading bands since the start of the swing era, Morton had consistently been denied membership in ASCAP. As a result, he didn’t receive a dime in royalties for the performances of his music in concerts, on jukeboxes and on the radio. In the 1930s, ASCAP was exclusively for Broadway’s white, legit songwriters whose songs generated sizable income in New York and Hollywood.
During this period, jazz was thought of as junk music by ASCAP, which considered the originality of jazz compositions suspect, since the blues was a public domain construct. It wasn’t until 1939, with the formation of BMI, that musicians who played jazz, R&B, country, blues and other popular folk styles found a performing rights organization that welcomed their membership and protection.
Getting back to Morton, who died in 1941, a sensational new album has been released by two extraordinary musicians—pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist/saxophonist David Horniblow. The album is The Complete Morton Project, featuring 15 songs by Morton. The tracks represents a fraction of what’s coming. Oliver and Horniblow have recorded all of Morton’s original songs, which number around 95. One suspects more will appear as funding becomes available. The songs on this first album are Shreveport Stomp, Croc-O-Dile Cradle, Gan Jam, State and Madison, Finger Buster, Courthouse Bump, Stratford Hunch, Mamanita, Good Old New York, Freakish, I Hate a Man Like You, Jungle Blues, Black Bottom Stomp, Mr. Jelly Lord and My Home Is in a Southern Town. To learn more about each individual song, visit Andrew Oliver’s site, where he has posted about them.
What you hear on this new album are two excellent musicians embracing the musical life of a jazz icon who was short-changed while he was alive. The Complete Morton Project not only lets us hear the breathtaking quality of Morton’s piano (thanks to the magnificence of Oliver) but it also serves up the piano with reeds (thanks to Horniblow) clear and vibrant, with all of the excitement intact. Most of Morton’s original recordings suffer from the limitations of technology in the 1920s and ’30s. Now, with this new album, we finally can hear Morton’s original work with the sonic grime wiped off. The result is spirited foot-tapping music that illustrates a turning point in the evolution of syncopation and the emergence of a piano sound that emulated the jazz orchestra.
JAZZ DA GAMA 02.07.2019
A soundtrack for what is almost a period narrative using the rarest of rare material
American pianist Andrew Oliver and British reeds and woodwinds player David Horniblow have been heard together recently as part of The Dime Notes, a group dedicated to playing in the tradition of Jazz; playing music that is specifically dedicated to preserving the New Orleans style. In fact Mr Oliver is a pianist almost completely immersed in the New Orleans style of playing, a relative rarity these days. For his part Mr Horniblow is no less immersed in that style of playing and indeed his playing often evokes the high and lonesome clarinet of George Lewis and Barney Bigard. So it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the two musicians would get together to traverse that time when the style of playing was most prominent – at the turn of the 20th century, that is.
The welcome surprise is that the duo should make their journey one that uncovers hidden, rarely played and perhaps even lost compositions by the great Jelly Roll Morton. A “surprise” but also something that is crying out to be heard, not only because it would appear that there is a contemporary trend in music to play improvised music and pass it off as Jazz. Musicians are just as guilty of doing so as are music industry executives with precious little knowledge of the history of Jazz. The result is a burgeoning music industry that tries to pass itself off as something that it isn’t; in this case – “Jazz”. On the flip-side, when a recording as masterful as this one comes around, one should be at the ready to recognize its importance, its authenticity and its remarkable beauty.
Jelly Roll Morton was a seminal figure who ruled the roost, so to speak, when Jazz was young, even going so far as to claim that he invented the art of Jazz. Truth be told, he was responsible for a number of “firsts” including recognising the importance of “the music ensemble” and writing idiomatically for the several instruments that made up this (then) so-called Jass “ensemble”. He was also the first to make the connection between classical forms, the Blues, and was almost alone in bringing Spanish traditional forms from Afro-Caribbean music into Jazz – or what he now-famously called “the Spanish tinge”. Best of all, Mr Morton brought together Black American music – the Blues – together with European forms; perhaps even create the first Jazz composition.
Mr Oliver and Mr Horniblow have done remarkable work in transcribing some of Mr Morton’s all-but-forgotten; even so-called “lost” work in this breathtaking hour-long disc. But more than reminding us where the music of Jazz comes from, this disc creates the vivid soundtrack for what is almost a period narrative using the rarest of rare material. The duo operates as a partnership of equals and supplies the ear-worms throughout. Mr Morton’s compositions are, of course, the main attraction – dancing melodies, insistent rhythms and breathtaking harmonies with the added attraction of breathtaking harmonies tossed from pianist to reeds/woodwind player and back in a devilishly brilliant manner.
The music of Jelly Roll Morton is proudly flown as the flag of the seminal music of Jazz throughout. But even if the music is the main attraction one cannot help being struck by the invention of each of the musicians playing here; Mr Oliver, for his part maintains swagger and swing through each interpretation holding fort especially in the long inventions of “Jungle Blues”, for instance. Mr Horniblow, for his part, plays clarinet and bass clarinet – as well as the lugubrious bass saxophone played here with tremulous delicacy on “Mr Jelly Lord” – with lithe and elegant warmth and swing weaving the tantalizing symmetry of Mr Morton’s melodic lines masterfully into the grand scheme of the songs. Both performers negotiate Mr Morton’s diabolical music with expertise, eloquence and good taste that is both rare and welcome music today in this worthy tribute to one of the great pillars of Jazz – Jelly Roll Morton.
RAUL DA GAMA
THE OBSERVER 30.06.2019
the joy of Jelly Roll
Have you seen those two guys on YouTube? They’re fantastic!” The word got round last year about pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinettist David Horniblow, who had set themselves the apparently lunatic task of learning all the 94 compositions of Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and recording and posting videos of the whole lot by the end of 2018. Not only did they succeed, their playing was so dynamic and heartfelt that I really missed them when they’d finished.
I thought I knew Morton, the first jazz composer, pretty well, but some of what these two had played was quite new to me. More important, their approach, although perfectly authentic in style, had a freshness and immediacy that was all their own. These 15 numbers, rerecorded in a proper studio, with a concert piano, make an impressive selection from a fascinating life’s work.
Morton (1890-1941) started out playing ragtime in New Orleans brothels, becoming a popular bandleader and recording artist in the 1920s, only to fall out of fashion in later life. Nowadays he tends to get patronisingly labelled as “early jazz”. These spirited and accomplished performances bring his music vividly to life.
ANDREW OLIVER AND DAVID HORNIBLOW
The Complete Morton Project
Recorded and Mixed at Master Chord Studio, London, Engineered by Dougal Lott, Assisted by Michele G. Catri
Mixed by Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow
© & 2019 Lejazzetal Records, London
Sleeve notes by Andrew Oliver