Smoking Time Jazz Club • 6 Blueses, 5 Joys and a Stomp!

Smoking Time Jazz Club • 6 Blueses, 5 Joys and a Stomp!Our man Joe Bebco has reviewed several previous works by New Orleans outfit Smoking Time Jazz Club, a longstanding live fixture in the city and a prolific recording outfit to boot. Covering Mean Tones and High Notes, he described them as “one of the big three in New Orleans, along with Tuba Skinny and the Shotgun Jazz Band.” Joe suggested that I take a listen to their latest release, to offer a fresh take on the group by someone who isn’t so familiar with them.

Well I hate to disappoint, but I don’t think my verdict—passed on thirteenth full-length, 6 Blueses, 5 Joys and a Stomp!—is going to be any less complimentary than Joe’s prior appraisals. Perhaps the record benefits from my present circumstances: I was hoping to finally visit the Big Easy in 2023 but, having just bought a very old house, I’m not sure my stretched budget will reach across the pond this year. So the chance to hear a new record which captures the energy and variety of the NOLA scene, transporting me there in spirit if not in body, was very welcome.

Red Wood Coast

6 Blueses, 5 Joys and a Stomp! delivers precisely what it claims to: twelve tracks (plus one reprise) of foot-tapping jazz and blues which plunder the city’s rich musical heritage for both its crown jewels and more hidden treasures. Of the former, we get classics like Clara Smith’s “It’s Tight Like That,” Kid Rena’s “High Society,” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Kansas City Stomps”—the latter include Ada Brown’s “Tia Juana Man” and Margaret Carter’s “Come and Get Me Papa Before I Faint.”

Smoking Time’s sound is what many critics would call “authentic”—but what does that word mean? To me they sound rough and ready, but in a way which has been carefully considered and expertly executed. Jack Pritchett and Charlie Halloran’s trombone squeal and squawk as though well-worn and bent out of shape, while Sarah Peterson’s vocals slur around the scales. Meanwhile, Mike Voelker’s drums on Ethel Waters standard “Am I Blue” seem to slip and slide like a drunk on an icy pavement—it all screams smoky, bourbon-soaked juke joints, of the sort I hope to visit once we’ve had all these leaks repaired…

The collection is a dancer’s delight, too, with a range of tempos from the sedate to the strenuous—and, with a few dozen balboa classes under my belt up to now, I reckon I could even have a go at the quicker ones. Smoking Time’s rendition of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Step It Up and Go” takes the guitar blues classic and gives it a stomping second-line makeover. That said, the one which really makes me want to get and move is the mid-tempo “Come and Get Me Papa…” with its thumping two-step bass by John Joyce and soaring clarinet and thrilling, trilling sax work from Jory Woodis.

Hot Jazz Jubile

I’d say that authenticity is about recapturing the energy of a live performance and making the listener feel the emotions the musicians want to convey: something the members of Smoking Time do very well. Joe says they have been at the top of their game for a while now, consistently delighting audiences with their regular spots at iconic New Orleans venues the Spotted Cat and Maison Frenchman. Check out the dozen albums they have on Bandcamp, and see if you agree. I’ll certainly be making an effort to see them live, when I get there…

Dave Doyle is a swing dancer, dance teacher, and journalist based in Gloucestershire, England. Write him at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter @DaveDoyleComms.

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