JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
Rod Mason (1940-2017) may not be a household name in the U.S. but he was one of the top traditional jazz cornets in England for decades. He worked with Cy Laurie, Monty Sunshine, Acker Bilk, and the Dutch Swing College Band. In 1985 he founded his Hot Five group, recording a series of rewarding albums for Timeless.
I recently discovered his LP Jazz Holiday and have been playing it regularly ever since. Mason’s Hot Five (with Helm Renz on clarinet and occasionally alto, trombonist Klaus Dau, pianist Ansgar Bergmann and banjoist Udo Jagers) is joined by the great British trombonist-bandleader Chris Barber who replaces Dau on ten of the 13 selections.
Mason is in remarkable form throughout the 1985 recordings, sounding very close to Louis Armstrong at times yet not copying Armstrong’s solos except during parts of “West End Blues” and “Cornet Chop Suey.” A powerful player who was quite inventive within 1920s jazz, he always came up with his own ideas. On this project, Mason clearly inspired Barber who is in top form on such numbers as “Ory’s Creole Trombone,” “Papa Dip,” “Trombone Cholly” and his trio showcase with piano and banjo on “Georgia On My Mind.” In addition, Mason sings a few numbers in different voices including on “Big at Ma And Skinny Pa” where he does one of the closest imitations imaginable of Louis Armstrong.
Renz, who is not overly featured, hints strongly at Johnny Dodds on clarinet when he pops up while Bergmann and Jagers, who have their spots, keep the rhythm steady and swinging. But it is for Rod Mason that Jazz Holiday is heartily recommended. His ensemble playing on “Ory’s Creole Trombone” and “Muskrat Ramble” is well worth several listens. Jazz Holiday is an overlooked gem.
Chris Barber with Rod Mason’s Hot Five • Jazz Holiday
Timeless TTD 524