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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



THE BLACK EAGLES

Times Past

Own Label BE[LECD]4018-1/2

 

 

CD 1 - Tight Like This
1. Climax Rag
2. Tight Like This
3. Short Dress Gal
4. Pap De Da Da
5. Black & Tan Fantasy
6. Gatemouth
7. Amazing Grace
8. Bugle Boy March

Playing time: 51m. 02s.
Recorded at the Philips Ontspannings Centrum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, on Sept. 12, 1982

CD 2 - Dreaming the Hours Away
1. Some Sweet Day (b)
2. Misty Morning (b)
3. Dreaming the Hours Away (a)
4. Baby o' Mine (a)
5. Lina Blues (b)
6. Michigander Blues (b)
7. Froggie Moore (a)
8. Blue Blood Blues (b)
9. Ace of Rhythms (b)

Playing time: 46m. 52s.
Recorded at Dimension Sound Studios, Jamaica Plain, MA, in Dec. 10, 1983 (a) and Feb. 34, 1984 (b).

Tony Pringle - Cornet & leader & vocal (tracks 1 & 5)
Hugh Blackwell - Clarinet & soprano sax
Stan Vincent - Trombone
Bob Pilsbury - Piano
Peter Bullis - Banjo & manager
Eli Newberger - Tuba & finger cymbals
C. H. "Pam" Pameijer - Drums


To date the Black Eagles have compiled an impressive list of recordings, and this double CD reissue of two LPs on the Stomp Off label, Tight Like This - SOS 1054; Dreaming the Hours Away - SOS 1063, further adds to it. These recordings are testament to the band's longevity, over forty years, and augment their musical standing.

It becomes increasingly difficult to find superlatives that have not been used already when discussing this band. Even back then in the 1980s, as we see from the original LP liner notes reproduced with this CD set, expressions such as "extraordinary jazz band . stupendous presentation . outstanding" (Dick Darling) or "unique [used six times in his notes] . superb use of ensemble . dynamic performance" (Butch Thompson) proliferate in writers' assessments of the band.

Both Darling and Thompson draw attention to the band's emphasis on ensemble, and both also allude to the prowess of the individuals on their instruments. Together these contribute hugely to the band's "sound," as the reader will easily perceive as he or she listens to the tracks on this set. There are many bands with exactly the same instrumentation as that of the Black Eagles, but none sound as they do. So many tuba players, for instance, plod heavily on the first and third notes of each bar. Newberger does not-he almost floats with a light four-beat, thanks in part to his circular breathing technique, complemented by Pameijer's light touch on the drums and Bullis steady four-beat banjo playing. Pilsbury can be light or heavy, as the occasion demands, whether it be one finger statements or heavy forte block chords. With this light but driving base to build on, the front line can dart in and out, trading the melody line. The solos that are taken are interspersed with these ensemble passages, and even they can be light since so frequently they are based on duets, the soloist being accompanied by only one other instrument or, on occasion, none at all, thus being a true solo. This all-around lightness and textural variety is largely responsible for the uniqueness of the band's sound, I believe, coupled, of course, with each musician's talent expressed in solos and elsewhere. It is further enhanced by the superb use of dynamics, especially on the building of the out choruses.

All of this can be heard on almost every track. On the first CD the first track, Climax Rag, exemplifies the ensemble emphasis and the dynamics in the rising volume of the out choruses. The second track, Tight Like This, opens with a dramatic unaccompanied introduction by Pringle on cornet, which is then succeeded by a solo statement from piano, followed by the ensemble's joining in. Underpinned by excellent riffing, the cornet solo leads into the coda, the whole gradually increasing in intensity. Short Dress Gal "swings like the clappers," from note one. For inventiveness, just listen to the interplay between clarinet, piano, and trombone and later cornet on the second strain. In Black & Tan Fantasy Newberger virtually caresses the song (and his horn, if you have seen him in person) as perhaps no other tuba player does.

More of the same can be heard on the second CD. There is a very interesting front line introduction to Dreaming the Hours Away, and then, mid way through, the ensemble, led by cornet, plays through the whole tune but gives two-bar breaks to drums the first time and then banjo the second. In the closing ensemble, the break there is either a masterfully delayed trombone one by Vincent, or it is a blown break which he dives in to save. Either way, it leads to a great finish.

One can find jewels in almost every track on these two CDs. One might also compare the two discs as to their ambiences. The first disc is of a live recording at the Dutch concert, the second of a studio session. To my ear the first is just a tad more spirited, perhaps because of the "feedback" the band received from the audience; whereas the second lacks that spark, which is not to say it is not an excellent recording. In any event, the two discs are worthy representatives of an incomparable band at the top of its game.

At the band's web site <www.blackeagles.com> one can obtain more information.

Bert Thompson



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