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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



NEW CITY JAZZMEN

Les Wood with the New City Jazzmen

Own Label (No number)

 

 

1. Gatemouth

2. Running Wild

3. Perdido Street Blues

4. Chiri-Biri-Bin

5. Salutation March

6. San Jacinto Stomp

7. La Harpe Street Blues

8. High Society

9. Listen to the Mocking Bird

10. Make Me a Pallet on the Floor

11. Travelling Blues

12. See See Rider

13. Saratoga Swing

14. If Ever I Cease to Love

15. Dippermouth Blues

Les Wood – Clarinet, vocals (tracks 10, 12)

Bernard Hodgson – Trumpet

Ron Westcott – Trombone

Mike Godfrey – Piano

Sluff Hazell – Banjo

Alan Kennington – Bass

Paul Norman – Drums

Recorded in Apr. 28, 1969 at Brighton College of Technology, Brighton, England.

Almost mid way between London and Brighton is the town of Crawley, Sussex, population a little over 100,000 people. After the Second World War, Crawley was designated to be a “New Town” under a British Government scheme to provide for the resettling of large numbers of people and jobs out of London to towns in the area of South East England, and Crawley, then with a population of fewer than 10,000, officially became a “New Town” in January of 1947. Ten years later, while the British traditional jazz revival was well under way in 1957, a new jazz band was formed by trumpeter Bernard Hodgson in this “new town,” under the sobriquet of, appropriately enough, the New City Jazzmen. The band held forth in the area for over fifty years, the seven members finally deciding to disband in 2011, four of them having been among the original group and one other having been with the band for almost fifty years. Possibly because they did not undertake tours of the country or Europe, they did not enjoy the recognition that other bands had at that time but against whom they could have held their own. Leading lights in the British jazz world such as Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Cuff Billet, Sammy Rimington, and George Chisholm were not averse to guesting with the New City Jazzmen over the years.

An architectural surveyor by profession and clarinet player by avocation, Les Wood was a familiar figure on the London jazz scene from the 1950’s through the mid sixties, according to Bernard Hodgson, about which time he put his clarinet away. However, he did start to attend New City Jazzmen sessions in the later sixties and was persuaded to bring his clarinet and play between sets with the band’s rhythm section. When the regular New City Jazzmen clarinetist, Chris Jaques, became hors de combat for some six months in 1969, Wood agreed to emerge from his voluntary musical retirement to deputize full time with the stipulation that on the return of the ailing clarinetist Jaques, Wood would step aside. At the end of this period when Jaques came back, Wood resumed his retirement, simply disappearing from the musical scene, never to be seen or heard from again.

On one of the dates Wood was with the band, trombone player Ron Westcott recorded the concert with a single stereo microphone, and it was never released until now on this CD. The results are surprisingly good, despite some of the proceedings being somewhat off-mike, as is the case with the back line on the first track, Gatemouth; Wood’s vocals on Make Me a Pallet and See See Rider; Godfrey’s piano solo on Chiri-Biri-Bin; and Westcott’s trombone on Travelling Blues and again on Dippermouth Blues. These, however, are minor shortcomings.

What the CD does well is illustrate how solid a band New City was and how fine a clarinetist Wood was. The band is firmly in the New Orleans camp, emphasis being placed on ensemble playing as is made clear from the start on Gatemouth and then on almost all of the tracks to follow. Solos—and there are some good ones—are invariably backed by the rest of the ensemble, although on occasion a change of texture is established, such as the banjo’s taking a true solo on Running Wild, all the others dropping out; or a change in rhythm adds variety as in Salutation March where the first time through all of the strains are first played in 6/8 time, segueing into 4/4 time for the repeat of the third strain, which then becomes the vehicle of solos for the rest of the cut. The nice call/response section between trumpet and trombone in the first strain in the march tempo is a small nugget to be savored. And the band’s command of dynamics is certain and effective, as can be heard in La Harpe Street Blues and the measured Saratoga Swing where the coda is led into with a crescendo, the rising volume being punctuated by Norman’s triplets and the concluding ritard.

Each of the players fills his role well. Hodgson’s trumpet is not brash but is authoritative. He adds a slight vibrato at the end of phrases, which is very pleasing, and he demonstrates his being comfortable in all ranges, although he tends to gravitate toward the middle range. His mute work is also very effective, as for instance in Saratoga Swing where he “growls” through his solo. On trombone Westcott is, as was said above, a bit under-miked, but that does not prevent one from appreciating his work playing behind and around the trumpet lead. He is heard to advantage on tunes where his solos are quite audible, such as Make Me a Pallet on the Floor and See See Rider, on which with his mute he achieves a kind of vocalizing effect, and his obbligatos behind Wood’s vocal on See See Rider are very supportive. The rhythm section provides a solid base throughout. Solos from piano and banjo are infrequent, but when called upon, Hazell and Godfrey respond well. Drums do not solo on the CD, but Norman provides some fine touches, such as rim, tom-tom, and cowbell accents behind Wood’s solo on San Jacinto Stomp, or the four-bar tag he adds that neatly leads in to the coda on Dippermouth Blues.

But the one allowed to stand clearly out front is the “dep,” Les Wood, on clarinet. He is nothing short of spectacular. Clearly he lands firmly in the George Lewis camp, not imitating him but displaying Lewis’ influence in his style of playing. His tone is a bit harsher than Lewis’—perhaps a little strident at times—but his phrasing, his runs, his deft fingering, his vibrato—all suggest Lewis: if one did not know he was a disciple by his own admission, the playing would surely indicate it. But his ideas are his own—he does not copy those of Lewis. He soars above the band, reaching into the high register more than Lewis tended to do, but also demonstrating facility in the chalumeau register. Unfortunately he seemed to vanish after he left this band on the return of the regular clarinet player—a significant loss to the traditional jazz world.

Information on this CD and the other eight CD’s by the New City Jazzmen that are still available, all recommended, can be had from Bernard Hodgson at dippermouth@sky.com. An 80-odd page book detailing the story of the band, titled The New City Jazzmen: The Story (surprise!), written by Bernard Hodgson, is also available. It is a well-written, witty account of the band’s formation and ensuing adventures through 2001, some ten years before they called it a day.

Bert Thompson



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