15 October 2015

Post 275: 'PYRAMID STRUT'

Tuba Skinny's fifth CD - Pyramid Strut - is available for digital download direct to your computer. And Tuba Skinny's sixth CD - Owl Call Blues - is also now on sale.

All you need to do to download Pyramid Strut is this. Go to

http://tubaskinny.tk/

and follow the instructions. You can pay for it easily (e.g. by PayPal) even if you do not live in the USA. You can even listen on line before you buy.

This CD was recorded in Tasmania during the band's Australian tour in 2013 and in my opinion is their best. It has excellent sound quality and of course the technical standard the musicians had reached by 2013 was so high that this CD is truly outstanding.

Talking about it, washboard-player Robin Rapuzzi said: Recording 'Pyramid Strut' was far different from any recording experience I think any of us will ever have again, as the space in which we recorded was very beautiful and sacred. A man named Chris Townsend had us over to his home outside of Hobart in the middle of Virgin Tassie Forest. He welcomed us and let us camp out on his property in some old fruit-picker shacks as well as recorded the album in its entirety. It was a pleasure to work with him and get to know his style. Normally we just record our music at home with blankets hung on the wall or a mattress leaned up against a corner to act as a sound barrier. I'm sure the sheer beauty of jungle around influenced us, as well as having the time and space to do it.  Often when we record, we don't give ourselves that much time to get the job done and it can feel rushed. In Tassie, we recorded I think it was over 20 tracks the first day and a similar amount the following day. Recording on that property allowed us to discuss a lot of everything and everyone's own ideas about the album.

15 tracks were eventually used on the CD, including such gems as Alligator Crawl, Deep Henderson and Big Chief Battleaxe. The polished, disciplined performances are stunning. There is also some terrific singing from Erika in such numbers as Slow Drivin' Moan (in a great arrangement making good use of Barnabus's trombone) and in Lonesome Drag, for which she wrote the lyrics. Here's the full list:

Big Chief Battle Axe
Lonesome Drag
Freight Train Blues (Lorraine Walton composition from 1938)
Pyramid Strut
I Got The Cryin' Blues
Cold Morning Shout
Hesitation Blues
Skid Dat De Dat
Mean Blue Spirits
You've Got To Give Me Some
Sweet Lovin' Old Soul
Alligator Crawl
Blood Thirsty Blues
Deep Henderson
Slow Drivin' Moan

May I draw your attention especially to the eponymous Pyramid Strut, an amazing composition by Shaye Cohn, who also plays a prominent part in its performance? This is a complex Mortonesque piece. In fact it's in the spirit of such tunes as Red Hot Peppers Stomp, recorded by Morton and His Red Hot Peppers in 1928.

Pyramid Strut begins in the Key of Eb. It has a 4-bar Introduction which in other contexts could be mistaken for the final four bars of a tune. It runs down the scale of Eb in the third bar and so establishes the key. Then we have a first theme consisting of 24 bars and played twice. Bars 1, 5 and 21 contain a distinctive little phrase (a minim each on A and Bb) which give this theme a special character. But its other notable feature is that Bars 17 to 20 inclusive are played as 'Breaks' (exactly what Morton would have approved of). The first time this theme is played, the cornet takes the lead and also the breaks; the second time the clarinet.

Then the tune moves immediately and energetically into a second theme. This consists of 12 bars on the basic 12-bar blues chord pattern. As you may know, it was also a common practice in the 1920s to slot a 12-bar blues theme into the middle of structured compositions. (Think of The Chant, for example.) Shaye's 12-bar theme is played through twice - first vigorously stated by the cornet and secondly with the full ensemble. We are still in the key of Eb.

Straight into the third theme we then go; and we find ourselves now in the key of Ab. What we have here is a 16-bar theme and this too is played twice. But what a tricky theme! In each set of 16 bars, bars 1 and 2, bars 3 and 4, bars 9 and 10 and bars 11 and 12 are taken as Breaks! That gives you four breaks in 16 bars - twice; so eight breaks in all. On the recording, the eight breaks are taken respectively by cornet, clarinet, trombone, tuba, cornet, cornet, cornet and cornet.

This is followed by an attractive 8-bar Bridge passage, which is extraordinary because it teasingly plays around (if my ear serves me correctly) on the F minor arpeggio. But the Bridge ends by running down through the Eb7 chord which of course leads us back beautifully into Ab. This will remain the key of the fourth (and final) theme.

This fourth theme consists of 16 bars  on a simple chord sequence. It is played three times. The clarinet leads us through it the first time, playing a tricky melody almost entirely of semi-quavers. Next, the banjo and tuba take the lead (a nice touch) in the second 16-bar chorus. Finally the whole band joins in for a climactic ensemble improvising over the 16 bars. And there's one more (Mortonesque) cheeky surprise: in a brief coda, those two minims from the opening theme bring the piece to an end, rounding it off perfectly. But this time (because the key has changed to Ab) they are played on the notes D and Eb.

Wow! I feel exhausted simply writing about it. Listen carefully to this piece. You will love it. Admire the discipline, the tightness of the playing and the technique of all seven players. You are witnessing what will come to be seen as one of the masterpieces of recorded jazz history.

What a girl Shaye Cohn is! (By the way, she even did the extraordinarily detailed and painstaking artwork on the CD cover - see top of this post.)
By the way, also note especially Shaye's busy playing on Big Chief Battleaxe. She can take a simple theme and create so much out of it, whether soloing or supporting the other players.

Aren't we lucky to be able - all over the world - to enjoy the fruits of her marvellous composing, arranging and playing?