Category Archives: Music reviews

‘The New Wireless’ CD review

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CD album title: ‘The New Wireless’
Band: Andrew Nolte and His Orchestra
Recorded: Live at the Spotted Mallard, Brunswick in 2014 (CD released 2016).
Length: 10 tracks totaling 34 mins 13 seconds

Review by Tim Harding

If I had to sum up this album in one word, it would be ‘authenticity’.  It looks and sounds like Andrew Nolte as leader and CD producer is trying to recreate an authentic 1920s dance band, and to that extent he succeeds admirably.

Almost everything about this album is authentic– the mono recording (possibly using a single microphone), the arrangements, the playing style, the danceable tempos, the band photos in tuxedos with wing-collar shirts – even down to Andrew Nolte’s 1920s haircut and moustache!

If it wasn’t for the audible bass drum, one could even be forgiven for thinking that this album was recorded in the 1920s.  But don’t get me wrong – the bass drum helps to provide a driving two-beat rhythm that I’m sure would be great for dancing.  In fact, Benjamin Braithwaite’s drumming is rock solid, yet light-touched and stylistically…um, authentic.  Not a high-hat or ride cymbal in sight.

Based in Melbourne, the band regularly performs at various music venues and events, including the Victorian Jazz Club.  According to the band’s web site: ‘The Orchestra was formed as a result of a lifelong interest in early 20th Century history, and thus the inspiration for an ensemble arose out of Andrew Nolte’s vast collection of old records, orchestrations, piano music, film, magazines and newspapers.’

The Orchestra is the standard 1920s dance band line-up – three brass, 3 reeds and 4 rhythm including a banjo and sousaphone.  (The saxes occasionally switch to clarinets in the Fletcher Henderson style). This line-up is ideal for playing what I understand to be the original stock charts from the 1920s, as no in-house arranger credits are given on the liner notes.

Some of the arrangements are very similar to those in the early recordings. For instance, ‘Clementine from New Orleans’ is similar to the 1927 California Ramblers version; and ‘Glad Rag Doll’ is similar to the 1928 version by the Golden Gate Orchestra (which according to Brian Rust was a pseudonym for the California Ramblers).  ‘Alone at Last’ is based on the 1925 arrangement written by Don Redman for Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, and popularized by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks.

I think that the band interprets these old arrangements very well, in terms of phrasing and articulation.  There are not many ad lib solos, although Andrew Nolte on lead alto sax and Rob Moffat on trombone play occasional 8 or 16 bar solo melodies.  An exception is the pianist Buck Evans (from the USA) who ably ad-libs on the right hand throughout, and plus full ad-lib choruses on some tunes, such as ‘Alone At Last’ and ‘I’m Gonna Charleston Back to Charleston’.  Rob Moffat also does a nice 16-bar ad-lib trombone solo using a plunger mute on ‘Stockholm Stomp’.  One of the trumpets (Robert Rizzo or Sean Nihill) sometimes ‘lets loose’ and ad-libs in a quite jazzy style during the last chorus of some tracks.

According to the cover notes, Michael McQuaid plays tenor sax on three tracks, where Russell Oxley plays lead alto sax and Andrew Nolte plays banjo instead of Campbell Shaw.  (If I was the leader, I would have re-arranged the charts to give Michael some ad lib solos).

Andrew Nolte sings on some tracks and imitates Ted Lewis’ spoken singing style on ‘When My Baby Smiles At Me’.  I don’t know if the band has a girl singer, but that would usually be a popular addition, notwithstanding that most 1920s vocal charts were written for tenor voices.

If you like listening to the early larger bands, or even dancing at home, and you would like to encourage Melbourne’s younger jazz musicians, then this album is one for you.  No record label or price is shown on the cover; so presumably this album is ‘self-published’ and obtainable via the band’s web site http://www.andrewnolteandhisorchestra.com/

(This review was published in Jazzline magazine, Vol. 50 No. 1, Autumn/Winter 2017).

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Count Basie ‘Listen…you shall hear’ (1937)

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by Tim Harding

(This review was published in Jazzline magazine, Winter 1989)

It is generally accepted that the primary characteristics that distinguish jazz from other forms of music are syncopation, improvisation and swing. Most of us know what syncopation and improvisation are, but swing is harder  to define. For me, it means an entrancing inner momentum or self-propulsion, like a powerboat lifting itself out of the troughs between the waves and planing along on top.

Swing is Count Basie’s main legacy to jazz. As an arranger, it was largely he who lifted the wallowing Bennie Moten band out of the troughs onto a higher rhythmic plane. As a bandleader, he added key soloists from Walter Page’s Blue Devils, creating a new style of big band. As an instrumentalist, he demonstrated the value of short silences or gaps in improvisation. I have been told that the venerated Australian jazz musician Ade Monsborough once said ‘the notes you leave out are as important as the ones you put in.’ (This point appears to be lost on some modern-style improvisers, with their endless runs of quavers and triplets).

My first live contact (confrontation?) with Basie’s music was in about 1968, when  Jeremy Kellock (later Jerry Noone of ‘Daddy Cool‘ fame) asked me to join a short-lived Basie-type band playing some of his tunes from the late 1930s. Although we found the ensemble riffs relatively easy, we found the rhythmic side very difficult. We just could not get that band to swing anything like Basie’s, and soon gave it away.  Later on,  I was fortunate enough to hear the Basie band in person at the Dallas Brooks Hall in East Melbourne, and I realise how wise we were to give up trying to play like them.

Basie’s characteristics of swing and improvisation are exemplified on this CD album (hep1025), produced by John R.T.Davies for the hep label. The album reissues  tracks from the first recording sessions by the full Basie band in 1937.  The band had been ‘discovered’ in 1936 by wealthy New York jazz writer and entrepreneur John Hammond. Late one night on his car radio in Chicago, Hammond by chance picked up a broadcast by the Basie band from the Reno Club in Kansas City. Hammond was astute enough to realise he had stumbled on a unique new style of jazz, and how right he was!

The new Basie style is evident from the very first track, Honeysuckle Rose, based on the Fletcher Henderson arrangement. (Henderson was kind enough to give the fledgling Basie some of his arrangements to help them through their first gigs). Former Blue Devil vocalist, Jimmie Rushing, features on six of the sixteen tracks, including the melodic title track, Listen…my Children and You Shall Hear and Good Morning Blues, which later became the title of Count Basie’s autobiography.

Another feature of this album is the marvellous ‘duelling tenors’ in the contrasting styles of Herschel Evans and Lester Young, particularly on One O’Clock Jump, Time Out, and John’s Idea (named after John Hammond). Buck Clayton’s trumpet shines on Swinging at the Daisy Chain, (named after a popular Harlem bordello), and Topsy, a wonderfully hot composition and arrangement by Basie trombonist Eddie Durham. Topsy also features a good baritone solo by Jack Washington, as does Exactly Like You.

The stars of the album, however, are the legendary Basie rhythm section of Jo Jones, Walter Page, Freddie Green and the Count himself. These are the guys who mainly generate the swinging momentum or propulsion, to which I referred earlier, and which no band has been able to emulate since.

The album sleeve has an interesting photo of the 1937 band on the front cover, together with comprehensive sleeve notes by Frank Driggs. I would recommend it as an important addition to any broad-minded jazz record collection.

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Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s

by Tim Harding

2-CD Album: ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029). Australian Jazz Museum, Wantirna.

Since its establishment in June 1996, the Australian Jazz Museum (incorporating the Victorian Jazz Archive) has amassed a huge collection of jazz recordings and memorabilia.  The main aim is to collect and store jazz music performed and/or composed by Australian musicians; but the AJM also houses recordings of jazz produced outside Australia, to be used as a reference source.  The bulk of the overseas recordings have been generously bequeathed to the AJM as part of deceased estates.

In recent years, the AJM has issued some 31 CD albums of recordings from this collection on its own VJAZZ label.  ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029) is the AJM’s first album of overseas recordings and hopefully not the last.  It is an excellent selection of 48 tracks (24 on each CD), recorded between March 1926 and March 1940.  The cover notes say that this period was chosen firstly to avoid the earlier low-fi acoustic recordings prior to 1926 and secondly to avoid the less rare recordings made after 1940.

Most of the recordings are indeed relatively rare – for instance, I already had only half a dozen of the 48 tracks in my collection, which is reasonably comprehensive from this period.  To me, this implies that many of these recordings may not have previously been reissued on CD.  All tracks are American except for six recorded in London, UK; and almost all of the American tracks were recorded in New York.

Well known bandleaders include Red Nichols, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Condon, Fletcher Henderson, Harry Reser, Sam Lanin, Ben Pollack, Ambrose, Nat Shilkret, Ted Weems and Ben Bernie.  Even some of the lesser known bands have stars such as Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti in them.

The AJM has ‘cleaned up’ the original 78 RPM records from its collection by removing annoying surface noise; but otherwise the tracks do not sound is if they have been extensively graphic equalised or interfered with.  The resulting audio quality sounds like that from 78s in very good condition, which I think is a good audio standard to aim for.

I also think that there is a good musical quality in the tracks selected.  Jazz purists might prefer to classify some of the tracks as ‘hot dance’ rather than jazz, but to my ears they all have a jazz feel to them.  The AJM has used Brian Rust’s discography ‘Jazz Records 1897-1942’ as a guide to both jazz classification and recording personnel.  There are no insipid best forgotten commercial pop songs amongst them; and many of the so-called hot dance tracks contain some good ad lib jazz solos.

In my view, the best jazz solos on this album include those by trumpeter Henry Red Allen (Sweet Sue, Yellow Dog Blues); trombonists Jack Teagarden (Makin’ Friends, Monday Morning), Miff Mole (My Blue Heaven) and Dickie Wells (Sweet Sue); clarinetist Buster Bailey (Lorna Doone Shortbread); tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (Sweet Sue); bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini (No Foolin’); and tubist Joe Tarto (Hittin’ the Ceiling and Just the Same).

There are a couple of 8-bar cornet solos by Bix Beiderbecke on Frankie Trumbauer’s My Sweeter than Sweet, recorded on 19 October 1929Bix also plays quietly behind Smith Ballew’s vocal, but this recording is not amongst Bix’s best work, in my view.  Joe ‘King’ Oliver solos on muted cornet in Blue Blood Blues (1929) by Blind Willie Dunn’s Gin Bottle Four, but once again, this is not Oliver’s best work.

Roughly half the tracks have a vocal chorus on them, but whilst adequate, the singing is not particularly memorable.  Unlike many of the instrumental solos, the vocals sound more ‘dance band’ than jazz.  A couple of exceptions are Jenny’s Ball (1931) sung in a classic jazz style by Mamie Smith, and Wipe ‘em Off (1929) sung by Clarence Williams.  Interestingly, Clarence also plays jug on the latter track where the pianist is Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.

One track of historical interest is Skeleton Jangle recorded in 1936 by a reunion of the 1917 Original Dixieland Jazz Band, with a different pianist.  Whether by accident or design, the 1936 band sounds remarkably similar to the 1917 band, but with better audio quality.

This album is available for purchase online from the Australian Jazz Museum at: http://vicjazzarchive.org.au/

The current online price for this 2-CD album is $25 plus packing and postage, which is very good value in my opinion.

Disclosure: Tim Harding is a life member and former board member of the AJM when it was the Victorian Jazz Archive.


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Way Down Yonder in New South Wales

(This review was published in Jazzline magazine,
Vol. 47 No. 1, Autumn/Winter 2014).

CD Review by Tim Harding

Album: Way Down Yonder in New South Wales Volume 2* – A wide ranging selection of rare early jazz recordings in Australia’s oldest state’ (FJM-039). The Jack Mitchell Library, Lithgow.

This compilation CD has been put together by the Australian jazz collector and discographer, Jack Mitchell.  It is an interesting cross-section of early Australian jazz and hot dance music, recorded in Sydney between the years 1926 and 1961, but mainly in the 1940s and 50s. The bands range in size from the traditional 6 or 7 piece groups led by Ray Price to the larger swing band format of Jim Davidson and his Orchestra.

way down yonder

The first thing a listener can’t help noticing is the low-fi audio on most (but not all) of the tracks on this album.  Ironically, at least 6 of the tracks were recorded live on tape by the late Robert Parker.  It doesn’t sound as if any of the original recordings have been remastered; and this detracts from the listening experience in some cases.  Nevertheless, most of the tracks are likely to be of interest to jazz historians and collectors.

The obvious next question is whether the music is good enough to justify a future effort of audio restoration, which can be a difficult and painstaking exercise, as remasterers tell me.  My answer would be ‘yes’; although some tracks are musically more worthy than others.

The star of the album is undoubtedly the youthful Bob Barnard on cornet.  When he recorded the Louis Armstrong flag wavers Cornet Chop Suey and Ole Miss Rag** with the Paramount Jazz Band at the Sydney Jazz Club in 1957, he would have been only 24 years old.  It must have been thrilling in those days for jazz aficionados to hear some of Louis’ hottest early solos played live.  Bob also plays on six tracks with the Ray Price Trio and friends – these are Chicago, 2.19 Blues, Stardust, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms, If I Could Be With You and Someday You’ll Be Sorry.

The other stand-out soloist, in my view, is Bob Cruickshanks on alto sax.  Bob also plays clarinet on the album, but his alto solos with Ray Price on Chicago and Someday You’ll Be Sorry are beautifully melodic.  Norm Wyatt places a lyrical trombone solo on If I Could Be With You, indicating some Jack Teagarden influences.

The two opening tracks on the album were acoustically recorded in 1926 by The Palais Royal Californians, who apparently were the first professional American jazz band to visit Australia.  That Certain Party sounds datedly ‘ricky-tick’, and probably would not qualify as jazz without the ad lib solos by Australians Frank Coughlan on trombone and Ern Pettifer on baritone sax.  The Paul Mares/Ferd Morton composition Milenberg Joys is played about twice as fast as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings version of 1923 and comes complete with barnyard novelty noises.

Jim Davidson’s Eventide – A Mood is vaguely reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, even down to the brief Duke-like piano interlude.  It was recorded in November 1933 alongside Davidson’s far better known (and better sound quality) Original Dixieland One Step, which is also on the album.

There is a swinging 27-second excerpt from a film short by a wartime army bigband called the Waratahs.  The track is titled ‘One O’Clock Jump’, but it sounds to me like Bugle Call Rag.  Then a mainstream quartet featuring Merv Acheson on tenor sax plays Study on the Jump Notes apparently recorded for a 1943 radio broadcast.  Lester Young and Count Basie have been obvious influences here.

The Port Jackson Jazz Band recording of I’m Nobody’s Sweetheart Now in 1947 features Ken Flannery on cornet instead of Bob Barnard.  Bob Cruickshanks plays a decent solo on clarinet but I do prefer his alto playing.  Ken Flannery later appears on trumpet in two tracks recorded by the Les Welch Orchestra.  These are West End Blues recorded in 1951 and Back Back Baby of 1956, which includes a vocal by Les Welch and a clarinet solo by Don Burrows.  (Les Welch was the founder of Festival Records, and claims to have pressed the first 78 rpm shellac disc and the first 33 rpm long-playing record in Australia).

Don Burrows and Errol Buddle (tenor sax) play some nice solos on the final track The Craven A Theme by Bob Gibson’s Dixie Group, which also includes George Golla on guitar.  Apart from the solos, this track is not particularly memorable.

In its current form, this album is primarily one for jazz historians and collectors.  However, after some decent audio restoration and remastering, it could also be an album enjoyed by the general jazz listener.

Endnotes

*The album front cover says ‘Volume One’; whereas the back cover, the spine and the disc itself are labelled as Volume 2.

** W.C. Handy’s Ole Miss Rag is listed as ‘Blues (Rent Party??)’ in the cover notes.

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