TWO RELEASES FROM KRIS TOKARSKI AND HAL SMITH
A superior up-and-coming jazz pianist, Kris Tokarski is developing his own style which includes aspects of Jelly Roll Morton, Teddy Wilson, and the top stride pianists. A pair of very different trio albums team him with drummer Hal Smith and either cornetist-clarinetist Andy Schumm or bassist Cassidy Holden.
Hot Classicism has Tokarski, Schumm, and Smith exploring 13 vintage pieces from the 1920s. Andy Schumm has been involved in some very interesting Bix Beiderbecke projects lately. However on Hot Classicism, he is featured on a repertoire that, with the exception of “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” (on which he plays his Frank Teschemacher-inspired clarinet) and “Riverboat Shuffle,” are songs not associated with Bix.
Schumm stretches himself throughout, even emulating Freddie Keppard a bit on “Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man” while coming closer to Bobby Hackett on “She’s Funny That Way.” A few of the numbers have Schumm on clarinet where, in addition to Tesch, he sometimes recalls Pee Wee Russell in his earliest days.
Hal Smith, who I have often thought of as the perfect 1936 drummer and a latter-day extension of Dave Tough and early Gene Krupa, gets to show his versatility throughout the set and always keeps the music swinging. Kris Tokarski has a few pieces in which he pays tribute to Jelly Roll Morton with “Mister Joe” sounding like a Morton/King Oliver collaboration. But as with the other musicians, Tokarski is creative within the early styles and ultimately sounds very much like himself. Other highlights of this highly enjoyable set include “The Chant,” the obscure “Parkway Stomp,” Tiny Parham’s exotic “Conga Love Song,” and heated versions of “Riverboat Shuffle” and “Stomp Off, Let’s Go.”
Back in 1938 when he recorded an extensive series of songs for the Library of Congress, Jelly Roll Morton included two versions of “Maple Leaf Rag.” He demonstrated how he transformed Scott Joplin’s most famous piece from ragtime into swinging jazz. Classic Rags New Orleans Style builds on the concept, imagining what it would have sounded like if Morton had given a similar treatment to 14 other rags.
Kris Tokarski performs eight Joplin pieces plus a rag apiece by Artie Matthews, Arthur Marshall, Joseph Lamb, Tom Turpin, James Scott, and Robert Hampton. While ragtime purists may not be completely pleased, Tokarski shows respect for the original melodies and frameworks while opening up the music. With bassist Holden and drummer Smith giving him steady and mostly quiet support, Tokarski digs into the pieces and moves them forward into the 1920s and even ‘30s. Among the songs that he uplifts are “Pastime Rag No. 3,” “Heliotrope Bouquet,” “Elite Syncopations,” “Sunflower Slow Drag” and “The Easy Winners.” Everything works quite well.
A CHANGE OF PACE
Tropical Swing by a group called Hot Steel & Cool Ukulele is a gentle, friendly, and pleasing set of Hawaiian-inspired music. Hot Steel & Cool Ukulele consists of Erich Sylvester on vocals and ukulele, steel guitarist Greg Sardinha, Duane Padilla on violin and mandolin, guitarist Sonny Silva, and bassist Steven Strauss. On their CD, they perform 11 songs from Hawaii including such traditional numbers as “Aloha Means I Love You,” “My Little Grass Shack” and “On The Beach At Waikiki.”
The repertoire dates from 1905-1951 plus 1988’s “Molokaí Slide.”
Erich Sylvester’s laid-back and cheerful singing is heard on each number while Padilla, Sardinha and Silva provide melodic solos.
The instrumentation is similar to that of the Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli Quintet of the Hot Club of France (with ukulele and steel guitar substituting for the two rhythm guitars). The music has touches of that group along with that of vintage country and 1920s/30s Hawaiian music. While not much stretching out takes place (only three songs are over three minutes and none exceed 3:41), the group makes each moment count.
Classic jazz listeners will find Tropical Swing to be a happy and delightful listen.
Tropical Swing (STI11022, 11 selections, TT = 31.48) www.hotsteelandcoolukulele.com
Chris Barber has had a remarkably long career. The 86-year old British trombonist first led a trad band in 1953, one that was co-led by trumpeter Ken Colyer. When differences in musical tastes resulted in the more purist Colyer departing a year later, Barber added Pat Halcox on trumpet. His early group also featured clarinetist Monty Sunshine and the popular banjoist-singer Lonnie Donegan. The latter would become an influential force in skiffle music, having a major hit with Barber on “Rock Island Line” before going out on his own. Through the years, while emphasizing freewheeling trad jazz, Barber also opened his repertoire to r&b and both electric blues and traditional blues, the latter featuring his wife, the powerful singer Ottilie Patterson. Barber expanded his group in 1999 to 11-pieces, calling it the Big Chris Barber Band. Halcox was a key member of Barber’s band until his retirement in 2006. Chris Barber is still active today.
In 1959, a live concert resulted in the highly rated LP Barber In Berlin which the Lake label has made available as part of its CD 1959 Berlin, 1960 Copenhagen, 1961 London. The two-CD set Barber Back In Berlin 1960 contains previously unreleased music from their return engagement, a concert that took place May 4, 1960 and had not been heard since.
Featured is Barber’s classic lineup, a pianoless sextet comprised of the leader, Halcox, Sunshine, banjoist Eddie Smith, bassist Dick Smith, and drummer Graham Burbidge. Ottilie Patterson has six vocals (the last three songs on each of the discs) and is in fine form although I wish she were featured more extensively. The overall recording quality is quite good even if Halcox’s trumpet is sometimes a little low in the ensembles. Monty Sunshine, who is well featured, often takes solo honors although Barber and Halcox (who takes two vocals) also make excellent statements along the way.
Highlights include a hard-swinging “Georgia Cakewalk,” “Soudan,” “Hiawatha Rag,” “Wild Cat Blues” (a showcase for Sunshine) and Patterson on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Come Along Home To Me.”
Back In Berlin 1960 will greatly interest Chris Barber collectors while also serving as an excellent introduction to the trombonist’s music for newer listeners. It is easily recommended.
JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
For the past 30 years, Mosaic has been one of the truly great reissue labels, issuing limited-edition box sets that feature all of the music by a top artist during a prime period. Their LP-size boxes, which cover most eras of jazz, always contain a lengthy and very informative booklet along with the music.
The 8-CD box set Eddie Condon & Bud Freeman – Complete Commodore & Decca Sessions is not inexpensive but it is a must for all trad and classic jazz lovers. It contains some of the greatest and most exciting jazz performances of all time. The 199 selections (which include 15 previously unreleased alternate takes), date from 1938-47 and 1950 and has all of the music led by rhythm guitarist Eddie Condon and tenor-saxophonist Bud Freeman for the Commodore and Decca labels.
Although the word “Dixieland” has been misused and scorned through the years by many, it fits much of the music in this collection along with the terms “small-group swing,” “Nicksieland” (named after the club Nick’s where Condon often played in the early 1940s), ”hot jazz” and “classic.” Condon, who never tried to be a soloist, was a superb bandleader who had the knack for gathering together all-star groups and somehow featuring everyone in the best settings and at the perfect tempo.
Featured in peak form are such giants as cornetists Bobby Hackett and Muggsy Spanier, trumpeters Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, Marty Marsala, Yank Lawson, and Wild Bill Davison, trombonists Jack Teagarden, George Brunies, Vernon Brown, Miff Mole, Benny Morton, Lou McGarity, and Cutty Cutshall, valve trombonist Brad Gowans, clarinetists Pee Wee Russell, Joe Marsala, Joe Dixon, Tony Parenti, Peanuts Hucko, and Edmond Hall, tenor-saxophonist Bud Freeman, altoist Dave Matthews, baritonist Ernie Caceres, pianists Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Joe Sullivan, Dave Bowman, Gene Schroeder, Ralph Sutton, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson, a variety of bassists including Artie Shapiro, Bob Haggart, and Jack Lesberg, such drummers as George Wettling, Dave Tough, Lionel Hampton, Big Sid Catlett, Tony Sbarbaro, and Buzzy Drootin, and singers Lee Wiley, Teddy Grace, and Bing Crosby. Try to top that lineup!
This box has more classics than can be listed here. Bud Freeman gets co-billing due to his stirring trio performances with Jess Stacy and George Wettling which feature all three of the giants at their most creative.
Since this is a limited-edition release, do yourself a favor and do not hesitate to get this box as soon as possible! There are few more essential sets for those of us who love classic jazz.
Complete Commodore & Decca Eddie Condon & Bud Freeman Sessions (Mosaic MD8-259, 199 selections, TT = 10:03.18) www.mosaicrecords.com
In each issue of the Syncopated Times, this monthly column features reviews of CDs by classic jazz, 1920s and ‘30s, New Orleans jazz, Swing and Dixieland artists, covering both vintage greats and some of today’s top musicians. A steady stream of rewarding releases comes out every week and I endeavor to cover many of the best. If you wish to have your CDs considered for review or need liner notes, bios or press releases, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or send the music to Scott Yanow, P.O. Box 1220, Lake Hughes, CA 93532.