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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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BEN COHEN with Brian White's
Magna Jazz Band

Remembering Ben Cohen




I'm Gonna Gitcha

Working Man Blues

Milneburg Joys

Stockyard Strut

I'm Down In The Dumps

Don't Forget To Mess Around

Weeping Willow Blues

Struttin' With Some Barbeque

See See Rider

Put 'em Down Blues

Pleading The Blues

Chatanooga Stomp

Keyhole Blues

Down In Honky Tonk Town

Georgia Bo Bo

You Made Me Love You When I Saw You Cry

New Orleans Stomp

Tracks 1-8: Ben Cohen (cornet): Brian White (clarinet): John Beecham (trombone): Alan Thomas (piano): John Graham (bass): Colin Miller (drums), recorded September 1979

Tracks 9-17: Ben Cohen (cornet, vocal on You Made Me Love You): Brian White (clarinet): Geoff Cole (trombone): Alan Thomas (piano): Gordon Davis (bass): Ian Castle (drums), recorded February 1984 except tracks 15-17 where Neil Clifton (bass) replaces Gordon Davis, recorded January 1987

Cornet player Ben Cohen first recorded back in 1961 with the band of Chris Barber and enjoyed a fine reputation thereafter as a driving lead. He joined Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band in 1979, and the first eight tracks document his first association with the band. Some personnel changes are evident in the 1984 tracks, whilst for the last three, dating from 1987, bassist Neil Clifton replaces Gordon Davis.

Cohen found Brian White’s a congenial band as they both had similar tastes in repertoire turning, broadly speaking, on a Morton-Oliver-Armstrong axis. White espoused Classic clarinet and John Beecham proves a most able tailgate stylist, though of course he is more than a mere imitator. The tight ensemble work from the contrapuntally strong front-line is supported by good rhythm, from pianist Alan Thomas, John Graham’s bass and drummer Colin Miller. Later on Geoff Cole, who writes affectionate and helpful booklet notes (Paul Adams sets out further context), joined the band in time for the 1984 tracks, and drummer Ian Castle replaced Miller.

Cohen’s tight fast vibrato enlivened his solos with a fiercely communicative spirit, as he shows on Milneburg Joys which is versed in Armstrong’s vernacular but is never studiously copyist. Rather he is able here to evoke Armstrong, as indeed he is quite able to draw on Freddie Keppard’s more archaic rhythmic and tonal delivery on Stockyard Struck without himself lapsing into trite pastiche. He shows facility with mutes as well, drawing on the precedent of Bubber Miley in his work on I’m Down in the Dumps where Beecham’s trombone has a languid air, the whole evincing some deft dynamics. Maybe this control of dynamic variance – especially playing quietly - was something they picked up from Chris Barber, whose band consistently showed how to vary its usage.

The vibrant, up-tempo Put ‘Em Down Blues shows the 1984 band in its pomp, and the feel with Cole and the other replacements sounds a touch freer, still recognisably but slightly less Classic. What remained largely unchanged was Alan Thomas’ liking for a whorehouse piano sound, a bit jangly and – to put it politely – that sounded as if a few firkins of booze had been surreptitiously let loose inside it. But what one remembers most is Ben Cohen’s tight, fiery lead and the sheer brio of his solos, borne up on the wings of his absorption of his great models, paying loyal and worthy tribute to the Classic idiom.

Jonathan Woolf

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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