Southside Aces • Minneapolis Bump

Southside Aces • Minneapolis BumpIt’s easy to prejudge an album, based on a band’s blurb and the first track or two. The latest release by Southside Aces promises “original compositions inspired by the Jazz Age” and, when the album opened with minor-key stomp reminiscent of “Why Don’t You Do Right,” I’d already decided that authentic Chicago speakeasy was the vibe this disc was going for. And I wasn’t entirely wrong—but I wasn’t entirely right, either.

For, while “St. Anthony Strut” does indeed evoke dark alleyways and barred doors requiring secret passwords, it’s just one of fifteen tracks presented on Minneapolis Bump which draw influence from the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, ranging in tone from film noir to Mardi Gras.

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“The Sorrow,” for instance, is a wistful waltz as slow as it is sparse. It goes to show that playing doesn’t have to be fast to be skillful—Tony Balluff’s clarinet and Dan Eikmeier’s trumpet both tug on the heartstrings with their considered, softly warbling solos, while Eric Johnson and Erik Jacobson’s contributions on trombone and brass bass give the whole a colliery-band-on-a-rainy-Sunday feel (see 1996 Brit comedy movie Brassed Off, for reference).

On the other hand are tracks like “Upstairs at Bart’s,” “Mordecai Promenade,” or “Frolic on the Avenue,” which are solidly swinging and just begging to be danced to. “Zutty Charges In,” as the name suggests, includes plenty of purple percussion from the talented Dave Michael. It’s definitely a danceable track, if you can navigate these frequent ferocious drum breaks—to the confident dancer, they should represent an opportunity to be creative rather than a hurdle to be overcome.

In fact, there’s plenty of rhythmic interest to get your ears around, here. “The Roar” features several impeccable stops, where the whole band takes a multi-beat break and challenges the listener (and the dancer, moreover) to keep in time. Then there’s “Whole Tony,” which keeps listeners on their toes (both literally and figuratively) with frequent changes from double time to single and back again.

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Besides the somber and the exciting, this disc features a third kind of track: those taking stylistic cues from more modern descendants of the New Orleans second line. “Mr. Inside Voice” is the best example, having a hip hop backbeat and funky guitar riffs reminiscent of fusion outfits like Hypnotic Brass Ensemble or Hackney Colliery Band. (Guitarist Robert Bell gets to play jazzier stuff on tracks like “Lullaby On the Avenue,” where his solo veers between Django Reinhardt and Carlos Montoya.)

Then there’s “G’s Goodbye,” which has something slightly Motown about it, with a trombone solo which could just as easily be a Gladys Knight vocal line. “If I Had A $1.50” features the album’s only actual vocal, provided by Balluff, Eikmeier, and Johnson. It’s not the best, but it’s competent and the lyrics are cute. The track sounds a bit novelty and a little out of place amongst all these superb instrumentals—but then, it does fit with the disc’s theme of keeping things interesting.

While it might be tempting to think that we’ve done everything possible with the instruments, rhythms and riffs which were available to the jazz musician a century ago, it’s albums like Minneapolis Bump which belie this idea. Because, while listeners may pick out the DNA of old standards in some of these tunes, that genetic material has been so much mutated and recombined that moments of deja vu are few and far between. Listen for yourself on the outfit’s Bandcamp page—where a digital download or CD can be had for just $15—and see just what I mean.

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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