The Viper Club • Tain’t No Use

The Viper Club • Tain’t No UseDuring 1936-40, violinist Stuff Smith led one of the hottest groups in jazz, a sextet (later septet) that teamed him in the frontline with the explosive trumpeter Jonah Jones. Violin-trumpet combos are actually quite rare. Violinists Joe Venuti, Svend Asmussen, and Eddie South seem to have never recorded in that setting. Stephane Grappelli did team up with trumpeter Bill Coleman or one song in 1937 and a full album in 1973 but those were rare exceptions. Ray Nance played both cornet and violin in his career, but that does not count!

The exuberant Smith-Jones Onyx Club Boys was a sensation on New York’s 52nd Street. Over 85 years later, the Viper Club was formed to bring back their sound. Comprised of the frequently-heated trumpeter Jerome Etcheberry, violinist Tcha Limberger (who also takes occasional vocals), rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie, and bassist Sebastien Girardot, the current group is smaller (not having piano or drums) and its ensembles have a lighter sound than the Smith band. Etcheberry often hints strongly at Jonah Jones along with Louis Armstrong although he does not copy either’s solos. Limberger actually sounds closer to the genteel style of Stephane Grappelli than to the lowdown playing of Smith, but the trumpet-violin combination works quite well.

Hot Jazz Jubile

While many of the selections on the group’s Tain’t No Use CD are from Stuff Smith’s repertoire of the era (including “Onyx Club Spree,” “I’m Putting all My Eggs In One Basket,” and “After You’ve Gone”), the other numbers (such as “Lawd You Made The Night Too Long,” “Smoke Rings,” “Swanee River,” and “I’m Crazy ’Bout My Baby”) are also performed as Smith and Jones might have in 1937. Etcheberry generally takes solo honors but Limberger is a close second. Kelbie and Girardot have occasional brief spots while primarily functioning as the swinging rhythm section.

The results, hard-driving good-time swing, are frequently exciting and difficult to resist. I imagine that Stuff Smith would have loved to sit in with this group.

Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for AllMusic.com. He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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