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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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ELI & THE HOT SIX

Contemporary Classic Jazz

Own label - no number

 

 

1. Honeysuckle Rose

2. St. James Infirmary

3. Oh by Jingo

4. Perdido

5. Chinatown My Chinatown

6. Body and Soul

7. I Can’t Give You Anything but Love

8. Bei Mir Bist du Schoen

9. Just Squeeze Me

10. Them There Eyes

11. Charlie on the MBTA

12. Tiger Rag


Personnel :

Eli Newberger – Tuba, leader

Bob Winter – Piano

Herb Gardner – Trombone

Ted Casher – Clarinet, saxes, vocals (track 6, 8, 11)

Bo Winiker – Trumpet

Jimmy Mazzy – Banjo, vocals (tracks 2, 5)

Jeff Guthery – Drums

Rebecca Sullivan – Vocals (tracks 1, 4, 7, 9, 10)

Special Guest: Randy Reinhart – Cornet (track 12)

Recorded live at the Sherborn Inn, Sherborn, Massachusetts, on Dec. 3, 2013 (tracks 1, 4, 7); Jan. 14, 2014 (track 12); Feb. 4, 2014 (tracks 5, 8, 10); Apr. 3, 2014 (tracks 2, 3, 6, 9); and May 1, 2014 (track 11).


For his Hot Six, a new group on the traditional jazz scene on the east coast, Eli Newberger, longtime tubaist with the New Black Eagles Jazz Band, has surrounded himself with a stellar aggregation of musicians. Their credentials are impressive: Winter, professor of piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston and pianist with the Boston Pops Orchestra; Gardner, trombonist with many groups that contained such luminaries as Krupa, Hackett, et al., as well as being co-leader of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks for many years; Casher, holder of music degrees from Boston Conservatory and erstwhile member of Berklee College of Music faculty, plays clarinet and multiple other wind instruments; Winiker, alumnus of the New England Conservatory, plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and vibes, and has conducted the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Mazzy, banjo player and vocalist extraordinaire, has played at jazz festivals up and down and all across the country, becoming legendary in the process; Guthery, a product of Berklee College of Music's Percussion Department, is making a name for himself; Sullivan, songwriter, educator, and vocalist, has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Improvisation and Voice from the New England Conservatory of Music. Guest artist Reinhart, cornet, also plays trumpet and trombone, leads his own orchestra, and has appeared with bands and musicians too numerous to list here.

Newberger and his cohorts attempt, with some success, to establish an identity a little different from that of most other bands playing “classic” jazz. Do not be misled by the “Hot Six” of their title—they are not like any Armstrong combination. While they have the traditional jazz band line-up, they do not follow the usual traditional jazz band approach to the tunes. About half of the tracks are not readily found in the books of most traditional jazz bands, but more in those of swing groups, especially, perhaps, big bands, tunes such asPerdido, Chinatown My Chinatown, Body and Soul, I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Bei Mir Bist du Schoen. The penultimate track,Charlie on the MBTA, is not, strictly speaking (since the composer and lyricists are known), a folk song although it is and has been a favorite of folk groups, such as The Kingston Trio or The Limeliters.

This Hot Six also are not content to simply churn out the tunes as so many other contemporary bands would and do, following a strict rotation pattern of soloists in each cut, but rather follow no set sequence and start almost immediately to explore all of the nuances they can find as they improvise. One could say, “Well, yes, but isn’t that what all bands do?” The answer would have to be, “Not quite.” These musicians do pay some court to Jelly Roll Morton’s dictum that one should “never discard the melody. Always have the melody going some kind of a way.” But while they do state the melody, often it is then left behind or simply implied and they launch into lengthy improvisations that are, on occasion, slightly “boppish.” They also frequently experiment with the rhythm and texture of the song. All of this feeds into the “contemporary” of the album title and leads me to think of the band as more “mainstream.”

The opening track, Honeysuckle Rose, is a case in point. It begins conventionally enough with a piano introduction and statement of the melody, backed by a four-beat tuba and drums accompaniment. Sullivan begins to sing the lyrics, and by the sixth measure she delays slightly the “suckle” of “honeysuckle”. By the time she reaches the next “honeysuckle” the gap between “honey” and “suckle” is lengthened. Time is thus played around with, much as it was by jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, and Billie Holiday.

After the entire ensemble plays through the song once, all drop out except the piano, who then solos once through, but after the bridge introduces—quite deliberately—some chords that are slightly discordant (eliciting a soft chuckle from Sullivan, I believe it is). Sullivan then comes back in on vocal, venturing even a little further afield with the rhythm and the phrasing and the improvisation. Joining in is trumpet, playing counterpoint to her, succeeded by a phrase from the clarinet leading to the trombone counterpoint during the bridge. Following that the tuba picks it up. Texture is thus varied with each chorus. Finally all join in on backing the ride out where Sullivan is quite freely improvising on both the timing and the melody.

Many of the tracks display such an approach. Frequently the emphasis is on improvisation, with the melody perhaps being alluded to at the outset but then largely dispensed with during the rest of the track. For instance, Oh by Jingo, a piano solo, is given an Asian flavor with its minor chords and coloring throughout along with chord progressions that feature unexpected breaks. Inserted are small quotes from other tunes, such as Dinah. However, not knowing the title of this solo track, one might be hard pressed to discern what it is since the melody is not stated after the introduction. Nevertheless, it does not lack interest, finally returning to the Asian tinge in the coda.

Another would be Chinatown My Chinatown, which opens with Mazzy singing the lyrics and accompanying himself on banjo. He does not open with the melody but improvises straight off. It is not stated until second time through when ensemble joins in with the trumpet, which lacks discernible vibrato throughout the set, voicing the melody. When Mazzy takes the vocal again, he scats his improvisation. The cut ends with a series of four-bar tags, all, however, seeming unnecessary and adding nothing except to drag out the close.

Also contributing to the “contemporary” aspect is Bob Winter on piano with a full bag of tricks, often springing surprises on the listener. His solos, especially where the rest of the ensemble drops out, can include rolling chords, as on St. James Infirmary andI Can’t Give You Anything but Love, single note phrasing on the latter, broken chords in Just Squeeze Me. His feature piece, Oh by Jingo, is a masterpiece, opening with broken chords leading into Asian-flavored introductory minor chords behind the melody, then switching to the major and launching into a decidedly “modern” interpretation which may well leave confirmed “moldy figs” scratching their heads. But for those with open ears, it is marvelous stuff.

The others all play their part as well. Newberger’s fascinating four-beat tuba playing—courtesy of circular breathing—which lightens things (so many tuba players are ponderous) and resembles somewhat a string bass, can be heard to advantage on Chinatown My Chinatown, among other pieces. Casher on saxophone on Body and Soul is reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins who, as Kenny Berger has stated, “hints at the song’s melody during the first six bars, but he is improvising right from the start, never actually stating the theme.” Elsewhere there are instances of trading of fours—trumpet and sax (Perdido), tuba and drums (Just Squeeze Me)—and varying textures achieved by different pairings or solos behind which the others drop out. Lastly, Rebecca Sullivan’s vocals are always intriguing, whether she is simply engaging in improvisational flights with the words or scatting her choruses.

As I stated earlier, this recording may not appeal to died-in-the-wool traddies, but to those of a more catholic taste, it should prove of interest, having so much going on. While I lean towards New Orleans style myself, I found the album very entertaining and can recommend it. Send an email to contact@elinewberger.com for more information.

Bert Thompson



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