Tuba Skinny’s latest CD entitled Some Kind-a-Shake, contains 14 tracks and is remarkable for four reasons.
First, it was recorded at The Living Room Studio in New Orleans. This is a former church, a spacious wooden building, now equipped with a huge range of technical equipment and offering excellent acoustics. So the CD is possibly the most ‘professional-sounding’ of all Tuba Skinny’s recordings.
Second, the band on this occasion comprised ten players, including two reeds. The result is an unusually full-bodied sound.
Third, to an even greater degree than before, most of the tunes are highly orchestrated with slick, ingenious arrangements. Little is left to chance.
Finally, two of the tunes were composed by participating musicians. The title track, ‘Some Kind-a-Shake’, written by Shaye Cohn in 2018, is a riffy number with well-drilled backing and rhythmic effects, a 16-bar fluent ‘verse’ interlude, and an amusing link and coda in which various instruments play one at a time in an eight-note arpeggio! Ewan Bleach’s ‘Berlin Rag’, composed in 2016, is craftily scored, with an intriguing structure that seems to dance teasingly around the key of D minor.
‘Saturday Night Function’ is a highlight, with five 12-bar solos, including two particularly tasteful by Craig on clarinet and Todd on sousaphone, sandwiched between single statements of Ellington and Bigard’s 16-bar theme. The unusual rhythmic pattern backing Ewan’s solo is typical of the attention to detail that permeates this CD. You hear the same kind of thing behind Craig’s solo in ‘Ballin’ The Jack’.
Erika sings Fats Waller’s ‘Squeeze Me’, which she also performed on the band’s album ‘Rag Band’. The earlier recording was made before a live audience at The Spotted Cat, so this new version is much cleaner in sound, but the arrangement and key (Eb) are pretty much the same. The strings – in the familiar chromatic descents – and Ewan’s alto saxophone provide lovely support. Erika also duets with Greg on the Memphis Minnie song ‘I’m Going Back Home’ (in the unusual key of A) and on ‘Wee Midnight Hours’ – based on ‘Midnight Hour Blues’ originally recorded in 1932 by Leroy Carr. Both these are established favourites with fans of Tuba Skinny.
Greg gently sings the 8-bar Blind Blake song ‘You Gonna Quit Me’, followed by a pleasant solo from Barnabus, and some exquisite teamwork choruses.
The up-tempo ‘Ballin’ The Jack’ has Craig shining on baritone sax and Ewan playing a clarinet chorus against stop beats; and there is a vigorous ‘Jubilee Stomp’, with lively work from Craig and plenty of tricky links and breaks perfectly executed.
‘Echo in the Dark’ and ‘Stealing Love’ are gentle, melodic pieces, with the lead shared around and sweet combined work from the reeds.
‘Too Late’ keeps closely to the spirit of the 1929 original by Dave Nelson and King Oliver, even including the drop from Eb to C for just one chorus.
Many bands play May Aufderheide’s ‘Thriller Rag’ in F; but Tuba Skinny go for the more challenging Ab, in an exciting up-tempo version.
Shaye Cohn’s own playing seems to have reached an even greater peak in the last couple of years. Whether beautifully melodic in ‘Echo in the Dark’ or rapidly and energetically creative in ‘Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp’ (a super tune for dancers), she is always exciting to hear.
There is superb, neat, complementary playing and soloing throughout by Barnabus, Robin and Todd, and by the strings – with quite a few finger-picking solos.
In total, then, this a well produced CD, with a wide range of contrasting tunes demonstrating the dazzling standard the band has reached ten years after its formation.
Tuba Skinny’s 2019 album Some Kind-a-Shake, by Joe Bebco
Tuba Skinny, Stars of the New Orleans Renaissance: Three Albums Reviewed, By Joe Bebco
How Tuba Skinny’s New Orleans Street Jazz Found Fans Worldwide, By Pops Coffee
Traditional Jazz with Pops Coffee- His Three Books Reviewed, By Joe Bebco
Pops Coffee Retires His Blog, By Joe Bebco