For the 78 RPM record collector there is something missing from nearly all new recordings of early jazz. No, I don’t mean the hiss and crackle. There is a certain essence, an immersion that players in the period had with the period itself and the popular music that filtered into daily life. A contemporary creative id that made its way into their playing and is not easily replicated.
Many folks playing early jazz styles today have learned by studying the recordings of the greats on reissue discs. Not many will have savored the non-jazz popular records of Billy Murray and Gene Austin, or the hot dance bands that outsold the classic sessions we now hold dear. They are missing some of the influences the jazz greats themselves had.
The Chicago Cellar Boys are to varying intensities all 78 collectors, and it shows. That often missing element glistens throughout their new disc, Busy ‘Til Eleven. It helps that Bryan Wright produced the album on his Rivermont label. Wright himself revels in the diversity found on 78s on his weekly Shellac Stack Podcast. This album should be on everyone’s list of must hear traditional jazz releases this year.
“That’s Her Now”, a signature of the band at their shows has a certain twitch in the rhythm, use of pause, and sincere vocal that makes my point about immersion. In the detailed liner notes, Andy Schumm says “you’ve got to play the sweet stuff to play the hot stuff right.” The success of that approach is heard on “Sweet Lorraine”, “Forevermore”, and “So Tired” which all share a swaying warmth and are followed by tracks that smoke the rafters.
The band honors the Gennett label by arranging “Ain’t that Hateful” by Gennett artist Naylor’s Seven Aces with nods to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings sessions. The arrangement is hot and John Donatowicz on banjo is a highlight. Unlike those early recordings, the banjo is as clear as if you were in the room. He also tears it up on a light-hearted “Take Me To The Land Of Jazz”, which they navigate successfully past any cheesiness into the spirit of 1919.
The arrangements, mostly from Schumm, wring out every drop from the five piece band. His strategy is to layer toward an orchestral sound and he succeeds. “Indian Cradle Song” is somehow made so full you’d swear they had 101 Strings back there fiddling quietly. Much is achieved through Dave Bock’s deep tuba lines, and the dual reed play of Schumm and John Otto.
The other standout in the sound is a result of the recording location- Paul Asoro’s home. The use of his own Steinway grand piano adds to the orchestral layering. It also seems to inspire him to make all of his keyboard contributions track highlights. On top of that, he is the consummate period vocalist, a true voice of the time. The recording engineer on location was Alex Hall who joins several of the musicians as the drummer for the larger Fat Babies Jazz Band.
As can be expected from a Rivermont release the liner notes are full of information about the titles and the band’s approach to them. 21 tracks all from 1930 and before. Several from Clarence Williams, several associated with Jimmie Noone, and with a pleasant variety to the mix. Second to last you’ll find “Wailin’ Blues” which was half of the recorded output of the original 1930 Chicago Cellar Boys featuring George Wettling, Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman, and Wingy Manone. Schumm says he tries to imagine some of the magic that might have happened if the creative freedom of 20s jazz hadn’t been enveloped by swing, this album is a taste of it.
Buy the album at Rivermontrecords.com
And now you can also hear the Chicago Cellar Boys on a freshly pressed 78 rpm record, featuring four tunes you won’t find on any album. Details.