New Orleans Night Owls • St. Louis Rag

New Orleans Night Owls • St. Louis RagDrummer Hal Smith is involved with so many overlapping bands and projects (both as a leader and a sideman) that the only predictable aspect to his activities is that everything he works on is quite rewarding. The New Orleans Night Owls, a septet consisting of Smith, cornetist T.J. Muller, trombonist Charlie Halloran, clarinetist Ryan Calloway, pianist Kris Tokarski, banjoist Bill Reinhardt, and bassist Michael Gamble, was first formed in 2021 and had previously recorded two albums that are available digitally. Their third release, St. Louis Rag, is fortunately available as a CD.

This set consists of the band’s versions of 17 vintage pieces (mostly rags) with the arrangements contributed by John Gill. One can imagine Lu Watters or Turk Murphy using these frameworks with their bands. Some of the pieces are well-known (including “At A Georgia Camp Meeting” and “Maple Leaf Rag”) but the most of the set is comprised of superior obscurities well worth reviving. A couple of the performances (most notably “At A Georgia Camp Meeting”) find the ensembles slipping slightly out-of-tune (fortunately that does not happen often), Muller’s two talking vocals are an acquired taste, and I wish that there were more individual solos from the horns although on some of the numbers they do get to open up. On the other hand, Tokarshi’s Jelly Roll Morton-inspired piano is well featured, Muller’s expressive cornet (whether leading the ensembles or taking a chorus) is always a joy, trombonist Halloran brings back the spirit and harmonies of Kid Ory, this version of “Grace And Beauty” ranks with the very best, and the band really gets hot on “Maple Leaf Rag.” As a bonus, 94-year old cornetist Bill Mason guests on three selections and fits in well.

Explore Upbeat Records

Among the other highlights are J. Russell Robinson’s “Sapho Rag” (some band should record a full set of Robinson’s compositions!), the Latin tinge on “Fig Leaf Rag,” “St. Louis Tickle,” and “Cataract Rag.” St. Louis Rag, which has lengthy, informative and colorful liner notes by Hal Smith, is warmly recommended.

New Orleans Night Owls
St. Louis Rag
Rivermont BSW-2266
www.rivermontrecords.com

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for AllMusic.com. He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

Or look at our Subscription Options.