As Dick Hyman explains in his liner notes, this live performance at New York's New School was recorded by the house technician merely to document the occasion. However, Inner City exec Irv Kratka liked the concert so much, he used the tape to produce this superb CD. Five of the eight cuts are Gershwin tunes and there's one by some guy named P.I. Tchaikovsky. Classical or jazz, Hyman and Braff work beautifully together and make this album memorable. It's one you'll play repeatedly.
This is one of several exceptional CDs offered by Inner City Records. Other CDs feature Bob Wilber playing music of Sidney Bechet, Dick Wellstood revisiting Fats Waller's music and Jim Cullum's band playing the music of Jelly, Louis and Bix.
All are available from Classic Jazz/Inner City Records, 50 Executive Blvd., Elmsford, N.Y. 10523-1325 or www.musicminusone.com.
Apart from the all-star personnel, which includes Joe Ascione, leader-drums; Djembe, drum; John Cocuzzi, piano; Frank Tate, bass, and Allan Vaché, clarinet, one immediately is struck by the eclecticism of the material. It ranges from the album's title tune by Ascione to Gershwin to Lennon and McCartney to a Disney film song to the finale which is guaranteed to drive you ape. (If only they had included one of my faves, "The Woody Woodpecker Song.") But, these guys could take virtually anything and make something good out of it. It's a musical chicken salad, but they are up for the challenge, stimulating your taste for variety and making you want more.
Available online from www.arborsrecords.com or call 1-800-299-1930.
Debbie Arthurs has been the vocalist and drummer with a popular British band, the Charleston Chasers, since 1987, and this collection of tunes recorded in 2006 presents her with her own group, Sweet Rhythm, in a program of light pop from the 1920s. Her backup group includes Norman Gill, piano; Norman Field, reeds; Andy Woon, cornet; Mike Piggott, violin; Thomas "Spats" Langham, guitar, ukulele and vocals, and Malcolm Sked, bass.
The group is thoroughly at home with the idioms of this music, and Arthurs guides them skillfully from the drum kit and microphone. She is a light soprano with a pleasant, supple voice, shaped by the early jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, once a pop superstar and one of the first notable band singers.
Arthurs' wide repertory of winsome semi-novelties and light love lyrics overlap with interests of the remarkable San Francisco chanteuse Janet Klein, and like Klein and others today, she fronts a nimble and subtle backup group, using violin and guitar as prominently as horns and percussion. The combination makes for pleasant listening and keeps her voice in the spotlight. To boot, Sweet Rhythm is a capable, swinging band -- it handles the pop fare with quiet ease.
The group features well-worn standards like "It's Wonderful," "Just the Way You Look Tonight" and "Ain't He Sweet" (a hit signature tune for Annette Hanshaw in the mid-'20s). It also supplies more offbeat and intriguing material like the superb "Big City Blues," "Travelin' All Alone" and "Thank You, Mr. Moon." Two quirky tunes Arthurs shares with Janet Klein, both relatively obscure but deserving numbers -- "When the World Is at Rest" and "If You Want the Rainbow."
Singers and instrumentalists who now busily resuscitate this lightweight pop jazz of the 1920s have moved traditional jazz off the superhighway of "classic jazz" and into a wider realm of great pop music from the era. Arthurs and her band pay close attention to details of the lyrics and melodies they handle, and her voice is kept right at the middle of the performances.
Her sidemen are very skillful and versed in the idioms of the music. Nick Gill supplies a Walleresque piano that drives the group along but still caresses Arthurs' voice. Norman Field doubles on reeds effectively, Mike Piggott commands a hot fiddle lead when needed, Andy Woon plays a thoughtful obbligato/lead cornet and Spats Langham is both a forceful rhythm guitarist and an attentive accompanist. Arthurs herself is a steady and unobtrusive drummer who keeps the beat bouncy and effective.
The recent wider revival of this kind of music, once the backbone of jazz, is a heartening sign that musicians and listeners have opened their ears and learned to enjoy simple pleasures of jazz-inflected pop music and the enormous trove of music in the Great American Songbook from the years between the big wars of the twentieth century. Arthurs is a capable and interesting guide on this CD. The emotional and aesthetic range of the music here is very wide and the contrasts very instructive.
It is great to hear so clearly the lyrics and tunes here, from the epicenter of jazz when bands were named Charleston Chasers or California Ramblers or Collegians or Rhythm Jugglers. Arthurs and Co. provide an hour of visitation to a world where everyone understood the automobile allusion in "Get Out and Get Under the Moon" and could finish the title phrase in "Into Each Life." A first-rate excursion into a living musical past.
Some photos on the CD jacket are credited to Andy Wittenborn, who, with his wife, Kathy, report on British jazz for The Mississippi Rag and are ardent Arthurs followers. The CD is available from Lake Records, PO Box 40, Workington, Cumbria CA14 3GJ, UK or http://www.mtraks.com/label/lake_records/