26 August 2015

Post 257: A GREAT CD FROM THE SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND

Many people seem to have enjoyed the video I made of The Shotgun Jazz Band giving a pulsating performance of Climax Rag. I filmed it when I saw them at The Spotted Cat, New Orleans, in April 2015. If you would like to watch it, CLICK HERE.

But may I also remind you that late in 2014 this great jazz band released a CD that is well worth listening to? It is packed with riches. If you would like to buy it, go to 

All sixteen tracks of the CD (entitled 'Yearning') were recorded in one session without an audience in the building that used to be Luthjen's Dance Hall in New Orleans. For bands with less stamina, it would have been an exhausting undertaking. The acoustics are terrific but obviously the emptiness of the building meant that it lacked the atmosphere that comes from having an audience. The recording is well balanced: you hear all instruments and vocals clearly.

The Band on the day comprised Marla Dixon (trumpet), John Dixon (banjo), Tyler Thomson (string bass), Justin Peake (percussion), Ben Polcer (piano), Charlie Halloran (trombone) and James Evans (reeds).

As well as playing the trumpet in a bold, forthright manner, Marla also delivers lusty, emotional vocals, in which one of her specialities is the thrilling rising glissando.

The rock-steady rhythm section, which is responsible for much of the band's distinctive house style, is on superb form throughout. The combination of Justin Peake (one of my favourite drummers), Tyler Thomson and John Dixon would be hard to beat. What a joy it must be for any 'front-line' players to be pumped along by them.

Here are the tunes on the CD:

I Believe I Can Make It By Myself

Sammy Penn with the Kid Thomas Band used to make a big feature of this 12-bar tune in Bb. The Shotgun Band gives it a raw treatment, with much trumpet growling and flattened thirds as well as a lusty vocal from Marla.

You Always Hurt The One You Love

This sets a great foot-tapping tempo. The rhythm section shines. Note the unusual key change - after a start in Bb, Marla sings the vocal gently in Eb and later more powerfully in Bb.

Get A Working Man (a.k.a. Pinchbacks, Take 'Em Away)

Marla offers a vocal with a message for the ladies: it's better to have a hard-working man than one who is good-looking but idle. My thanks to blog-reader Phil in the USA for telling me it was originally recorded in 1924 by Bessie Smith under the title Pinchbacks, Take 'Em Away. It has a 16-bar verse and a 32-bar chorus (harmonically identical to It's a Long Way to Tipperary). James' fluid solo (backed so well by Charlie and the Rhythm Section) distinctly demonstrates the Shotgun house style.

Tears
This raggy number which I think Lil Hardin composed for King Oliver's Band in 1923 (when they recorded it) is technically challenging but the Shotguns make light work of it. The tune is played fast (as by King Oliver) and, although it's full ensemble all the way, there are some nice 'breaks' for James.

Dream

Marla delivers a pleasant vocal (complete with Verse) right from the start, with solid backing from Ben, John, Tyler and Justin. Then there's a nice relaxed chorus featuring the clarinet and trombone again, with the chosen key (F) suited very well to James' higher register.

Yearning

This standard from 1925 seems to be a favourite with the Shotgun players. They played it in the great Abita Springs video. (Click here to see it.) Marla offers a punchy trumpet and vocal and there is a pleasant 16-bars-each chorus shared by James and Charlie.

Hindustan

Every band plays this tune from 1918. So how do the Shotguns make it fresh? With terrific front-line interplay; some Kid Thomas-style attack; and a vocal from Marla.

He'll Have To Go

This is one of two tunes in waltz time on the CD. Imagine Careless Love played slowly in 3/4. It's harmonically similar. Composed by Joe and Audrey Allison, it was a hit for Jim Reeves in 1959. Much of the performance consists of a gentle vocal from Marla, well supported by Ben. There are a few bars of special beauty when James leads with the melody in the ensemble. 

Over In The Gloryland

This spiritual is another tune that most bands play. Some musicians don't like it because of its very limited harmonic pattern. But the Shotguns make it last for over six minutes and leave you wanting more. There is hearty singing and great collective improvisation.

I Love You So Much It Hurts

This is a country and western number recorded (and probably written) by Floyd Tillman in 1948. The Shotguns give a no-frills straight-ahead performance of the 32-bar simple tune. They choose not to offer a vocal.

Kentucky Blues

I don't know the origin of this tune. (There are at least two other different tunes with this title). It seems to have two themes (16-bar and a standard 12-bar). The arrangement is the most sophisticated on this CD - from a band that normally does not bother with very sophisticated arrangements. The lovely clarinet of James Evans is well featured.

Love In Bloom
James is singing this one a great deal recently at the band's performances. He is no mean vocalist. It's a very nice song composed in 1934 by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. James also plays some lovely fluid clarinet with Marla (for once using a standard mute) in the background. It's one of two tunes played in Ab. The other is Gloryland, of course.
Mobile Stomp
This famous number (written and recorded by the Sam Morgan Band in 1927) is also on the Abita Springs video. I like the rock-steady work from all members of the band, especially at its more delicate moments. Note the saxophone's second chorus against offbeats; and the amusing 'quadruple' ending.
You Broke Your Promise
This 1949 pop song by Wyle, Taylor and Pole was a favourite with the early Preservation Hall bands. In an unpretentious performance of this 32-bar tune, Marla offers a nice clear vocal - a help to those of us who want to learn the words. As in You Always Hurt The One You Love, above, she drops the key (to C) for her first vocal but sings her second vocal higher - in F - the key in which the rest of the performance is played. This must be a device she enjoys. It certainly is effective in setting the two vocals in contrast.
Tennessee Waltz
This is the second tune in 3/4 time. It's also the most touching tune on the CD. Marla sings the sad words about lost love, with good instrumental support from James and Charlie. A beautiful melody, gently presented.
I'll See You In My Dreams
The famous Isham Jones and Sammy Kahn song from 1924. No vocal is offered; and they do not make the mistake of taking it too slowly. Charlie's trombone gives a melodious lead; and there is some lovely ensemble playing.