24 February 2018

Post 583: 'BERLIN RAGS'




I was intrigued by 'Berlin Rags', a video put up by James Sterling (24 February 2018). If you haven't yet seen it, click here:


Even by Tuba Skinny standards, it is an extraordinary piece of music. It was obviously thoroughly composed and arranged from start to finish, with none of the usual opportunities for improvised 'solos'. Notice the two bars from Barnabus and one from Todd at about 52 seconds, which seem to make a highly-unusual 3-bar 'bridge'. These bars are clearly part of the arrangement. Similarly, at about 1 minute 35 seconds, without any signal from Shaye, the strings switch to playing off-beats and the whole band takes the volume down briefly. Then you have those Justin tremolos - several of them, starting at about 1 min 58 - again obviously part of the composition. There’s Robin’s use of the cymbal starting at 1 minute 43 – four times in all, I think, and again later, all obviously pre-planned. Then there's the three silent beats from the entire rhythm section at 2 mins 42: things like that don't just happen. Finally, there is the very special and unusual ending. The structure of the piece is unconventional; and although it uses familiar chords, there are surprises in the progressions as well as in the melody.
So where did it all come from? Do you know? I did not. All I could tell was that it was NOT the 'Berlin Rag' that was composed by Bernie Pearl.

Well, Robin has kindly let me know it was composed in 2016 by Ewan Bleach - who of course had been a member of Tuba Skinny for a while. Well done, Ewan! And thanks, Robin. Ewan composed it for the band Frog and Henry and they (without a trombone - unlike Tuba Skinny) recorded it in 2016 on their CD (it's the very first track):


Over the years, there have been close links between Tuba Skinny and Frog and Henry. I believe there have been four musicians who have played a great deal in both bands. When Tuba Skinny took on 'Berlin Rags', they had to find a role for the trombone. Robin told me also that his cymbal markings were purely an idea he had stuck with, though he changes them from time to time.

At the top of this article  you can see the poster produced to go with this tune. Frog and Henry Music have very kindly sent it to me.
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My friend Jonathan Graham, who is one of England's best traditional jazz musicians (on both guitar and trumpet), sent me this comment, which I think is spot on:-

I concur – lovely piece, brilliant arrangement and beautifully played. No room for error anywhere with those chord progressions. The chord players look like they may be reading (I would want to) but the front line seem, as you suggest, to have memorised it – this is particularly impressive when listening to how many note-precise parts the trombone player has to include. All very reminiscent in style and process to the legendary Morton Red Hot Peppers.

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The book 'Tuba Skinny and Shaye Cohn' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.