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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


Mt. Gretna Week-End

Own Label BE[LECD]4017-1/2



CD 1

1. That’s My Home – Intro

2. Salutation March

3. Oh My Babe Blues

4. Yearning

5. Hiawatha

6. Two Deuces

7. Maple Leaf Rag

8. It’s Nice to Hear Your Voice

9. New Orleans Stomp

Playing time: 55m. 05s.

CD 2

1. Over in the Gloryland

2. South

3. Tia Juana Man

4. Shimme-Sha-Wobble

5. Knee Drops

6. Lucky Rock Blues

7. Lead Me Savior

8. Early Hours – Sign-off

Playing time: 49m. 15s.

Recorded at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse, Mt. Gretna, PA, on June 22-24, 1984.

Tony Pringle – Cornet & leader

Hugh Blackwell – Clarinet & soprano sax

Stan Vincent – Trombone

Bob Pilsbury – Piano

Peter Bullis – Banjo & manager

Eli Newberger – Tuba

C. H. “Pam” Pameijer – Drums

Continuing the Black Eagle’s Limited Edition reissue series of LPs and tapes on CDs is this double CD titled Mt. Gretna Week-End. Originally issued on two Stomp Off LPs SOS 1091 and 1092, this set includes three additional tracks: disc 1 – tracks 1, 8; disc 2 – track 8. These two superb performances by the band illustrate very well Butch Thompson’s appraisal in the liner notes that the band members have “invent[ed] their own style,” the result being that “the band’s sound is instantly identifiable.”

In large part I believe this sound comes from the sound of Pringle’s spare cornet lead of the ensemble that seems squeezed through the horn over the driving four-beat rhythm section, coupled with the judicious use of dynamics and admixture of varying textures.

Hiawatha on disc 1 nicely exemplifies these elements. Like so many of the tunes on this disc, it is ensemble almost all the way through, but there is a delightful contrast of light and shade as the band moves from ensemble, for example, to piano. Furthering the interest is the most unusual stop time the band plays against the drumming when Pameijer takes a solo—the first note of every second measure punctuating his accented pressed rolls on the snare. More usual is two notes—or perhaps just one—of stop time per measure. However, the pattern employed by the Black Eagles here is something one almost never hears.

As to some of the other highlights of this performance, there is the leisurely Maple Leaf Rag, taken as an ensemble piece, rather than as the more usual solo piano feature—and it swings all the way through. Contrast is again achieved where, at the end of the second strain, the band switches from full ensemble to a quartet of cornet, clarinet, banjo, and tuba playing the repeat of the first strain. Varying textures always lend considerable interest, and the Black Eagles are masters of the art.

Another prime example of this variety is to be found in Oh My Babe Blues, where Pringle and Pilsbury take the melody, the rest having dropped out, and so quiet is their playing that one could certainly hear the proverbial pin drop. The same applies to the tuba/banjo duet a little later in the same piece.

Salutation March also holds the listener’s interest when on the repeat of the second strain the band switches from 6/8 to 4/4. The tuba’s weaving behind the clarinet on the latter’s solo a thing of beauty, and the dynamics of the out choruses are quite wonderful—almost an exercise in “how softly can we play?” followed by a gradually rising in volume as chorus succeeds chorus.

In Yearning the ensemble shows how to swing, aided in large part by Newberger’s four-to-the-bar tuba backing. And one must not forget the wonderfully solid, steady four/four of the banjo throughout. Bullis is not much given to soloing, being content to support the other or others he is playing with (his only solo on this disc, as Butch Thompson puts it, comes when he plays a “Lawrence Marrero-derived banjo tremolo on the chorus before the final ensemble” of Oh My Babe Blues), but he is a large part of the rhythm section’s bottom.

Like the first, the second disc is replete with examples of the Black Eagles’ unique treatment of the songs in its repertoire.

Over in the Gloryland , with its laid-back tempo and jaunty four/four rhythm, swings mightily with awesome punctuation by Pameijer on toms, woodblock, and cymbal. In the same vein is South.

Another rhythm, that of the tango, is established in the quietly sedate ensemble opening of Tia Juana Man. This is sustained for a couple of choruses; then the group segues into a straight four for a chorus. Following that the tango rhythm again dominates with clarinet lead for a couple of choruses, that ending with a dramatic piano solo, highlighted by varying dramatic devices. The effect is heightened by the cornet’s joining for the second chorus, making a duet. A strident entry by trombone follows, adding to the drama. Then with the ensemble’s switch from the tango rhythm back to the straight four for the coda, more drama is added.

Other noteworthy moments on this disc are the contrasting dynamics in Knee Droops, where there are several boisterous choruses that are abruptly ended with a very soft duet of cornet and banjo, which appear to hold the audience spellbound. This is followed by more four-beat tuba, again raising the excitement level, and finally the ensemble choruses building into the coda with its nice breaks and choke cymbal’s closing punctuation.

Finally, Lead Me Savior provides another instance of unusual stop chords behind a drum solo. It begins as did that in Hiawatha (disc 1) with the first beat of every second measure complementing Pameijer’s accented pressed rolls on the snare the first time through; then on the second time through it changes to the first two beats of every second measure, generating increasing interest.

As Butch Thompson says in his original notes, the band certainly has a “unique sound,” one to which all of the above devices and techniques contribute. He goes on to say:

The critics generally acknowledge that this band is one of the very best on the current scene. It seems very likely that the BEJB will be around for a long time, and the traditional jazz world is certainly the better for it.

That prediction has certainly come to pass as the band has now passed its fortieth anniversary and still maintains a busy calendar, showing no signs of stopping.

At the band’s web site <> one can obtain more information.

Bert Thompson

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