3. Pass Me Not O’ [sic] Gentle Saviour
4. Ole Miss Rag
5. My Gal Sal
6. Just a Little While to Stay Here
7. Road of Sunshine
8. Does Jesus Care?
9. St. Philip Street Breakdown
10. When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful
11. Beer Barrel Polka
12. Climax Rag
Steve Graham – Trumpet
Tom Whittingham – Trombone and euphonium
John Scantlebury – Clarinet and alto sax
Peter Winterhart – Drums
Sarah Thatcher – Banjo and guitar
Spike Kennedy – String bass
Recorded live at the Warmley Jazz Club, Bristol, on Dec. 2, 2015.
On my infrequent visits to the U.K., I always try to take in a jazz festival or two, and each time I try to hear “new” (to me) bands, as well as some old
favorites. Such was the case last year (2015) when I heard the Black Cat Jazz band at the Bude festival in September. In this instance the band actually
was new, having been founded only the year before, but one would never have known it by the quality of the playing. Of all the players, only one,
Sarah Thatcher, was familiar to me as I had heard her in bands on previous visits. She, along with Spike Kennedy, founded the Black Cat Jazz band, which
played only a single set at Bude, but it was enough to persuade me it was a “righteous” band.
So when this CD, the band’s first, quite unexpectedly arrived in the mail for review, I was eager to hear its contents and was not disappointed. The
musicians on this disc are the same as those I heard at Bude. All are jazz veterans and will be familiar to most jazz fans in the U.K., all having played
with other bands—some no longer extant, such as the Panama Jazz Kings, and others still on the scene, such as A Breeze from New Orleans band and Sunset
Café Stompers. They frequently fill in with other bands when a dep is needed. Their credentials, therefore, are impeccable.
The band subscribes to the uptown New Orleans style, and as Spike Kennedy says in the insert, the tunes are selected from the repertoires of “Bunk Johnson,
Punch Miller, George Lewis, Emmanuel Paul, the Humphrey brothers, Kids: Ory, Howard, Clayton, Thomas” et al. Except for, perhaps, Road of Sunshine
and When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful, the tune list of this CD contains few surprises, the majority being familiar although they are
hardly warhorses. There is no attempt to merely reproduce the renditions given by these New Orleans icons—the Black Cat Jazz band follows its own muse and
gives a fresh treatment to each tune. Ensemble is, of course, to the fore, but some solo space is allowed to each musician. Mercifully no one pattern of
order of solos is followed from tune to tune, as is the case with so many bands, but variety is striven for, and every musician does not find it necessary
to take a solo on every number.
While it is tempting to look at every track, in the interests of space perhaps some highlights will suffice.
Riffing behind the soloist is common and supportive, as for instance, on Collegiate where backing is given the second chorus of the clarinet solo.
Or there is variety of texture, such as that in Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour where the tune opens with the ensemble taking it once through,
followed by one time through with a duet of trombone and clarinet; then the whole group drops out except for a very soft trumpet lead backed by string bass
only. These two play with diminishing volume to the point that one could hear that proverbial pin drop; then they are succeeded by the complete ensemble
joining in at the opening volume (the band never does play blaringly). Of all the selections on this disc, I would choose this and perhaps the beautiful
rendition of another hymn, Does Jesus Care? as perhaps my favorites.
Tempos are all very sensible, geared as they deliberately are to dancing. The Black Cat Jazz band has it right—the New Orleans bands cited above all had,
as their objective, playing music for a dance, not a concert, and the Black Cat Jazz band follows suit, aiming to “perform music in an authentic New
Orleans ‘Dance Hall’ style,” as the liner notes inform us. And these tempos are adhered to—there is never a rush to the finish line, thanks to a very
steady rhythm section and a front line that doesn't push the tempo, either. So to cite just the two closing numbers, Beer Barrel Polka andClimax Rag, the first, Beer Barrel Polka, is taken at a somewhat sedate—but jaunty—march tempo (or at a slow polka tempo, if you like), and the second, Climax Rag, starts—and finishes—at a tempo that allows dancers to avoid tangled feet coupled with breathlessness, and
musicians to execute without straining to keep up or, as is the case in so many renditions of this tune, staying abreast of a rapid acceleration.
The Black Cat Jazz band’s performances at Bude and on this CD confirm that it is among the premier British New Orleans style bands. Here in the U.S.
(certainly the western part) the traditional jazz scene seems to be a shrinking one, witness the disappearance of so many jazz festivals as well as clubs
and societies over the past few years, and in the dwindling number of bands there is a dearth of those embracing the New Orleans style of jazz; whereas
Britain seems blessed with an abundance of them, most very good. This relatively new band, Black Cat Jazz, is one of that genre and ranks among the best in
the U.K. Two thumbs up for this CD.
More information can be obtained by email from email@example.com or by phone at 01633
251043. The band’s website is www.blackcatjazz.co.uk where the CD can be ordered..