On The Levee Jazz Band

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On The Levee Jazz Band
Swinging New Orleans Jazz: For Dancing—Or Just Listening
Big Al Records BACD 701
Available at www.LouisianaMusicFactory.com

The On The Levee Jazz Band takes its name from a San Francisco nightclub owned by Kid Ory between 1958 and 1961. The group was organized by its drummer Hal Smith with a specific goal of playing in the sound of the Ory band of the revival period. Smith is an admirer of Ory drummer Minor Hall, and found for this band a team that includes pianist Kris Tokarski, who was interested in the music of Ory; pianist Don Ewell; Clint Baker, enamored with Ory’s trombone playing; and, most fortunately, bassist Joshua Gouzy. Gouzy considers Ory bassist Ed Garland to be his primary influence and his playing really stands out on this album, not showy, but shining through. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a band led by a drummer would be noteworthy for its pulsing rhythmic feel, but there it is. This would be a good album for those keeping time to study from.

Smith filled out the band with busy New Orleans musicians Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; and Alex Belhaj, adding to the rhythm on guitar. The band has already found success playing around New Orleans and in Pensacola where they debuted last fall. More festivals are in the works, so the band is a going affair and not just an album project. That’s a great thing for the scene. While there are some bands with 50 years in, or more, still playing in revival style, none are doing it with the intentionality of this group. That focus gives the music a freshness that will bring a smile to long-time fans. For the younger fans, it’s a chance to stop in and look at what came before, on their way back to unearthing lost gems of the twenties. The younger band members will even carry the influence of this band back with them to their other groups

The album is made up of revival standards, all instrumental, played slow and low with a bobbing swing. The titles are familiar—“At a Georgia Camp Meeting”, “Milenberg Joys”, “Wolverine Blues”—but they are standards because a good band can always find something new in them. The album has a summertime feel, good for a joyful rest on the patio, or well-paced dancing. A sure hit for the Dixieland crowd and, if you’re a musician, worth playing along with at home. My pick: “Down Home Rag”.


This review is part of Catching up with New Orleans, Part 1

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