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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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SAVANNAH JAZZ BAND

Sacred and Secular

Bill Smith – Cornet, harmonica, vocals (tracks #2, 6, and 10)
Roger Myerscough – Clarinet, alto sax, vocals (tracks #4, 12, and 13)
Brian Ellis – Trombone, piano
Chris Marney – Banjo, vocal (track #8)
Tony Pollitt – Double bass
John Meehan – Drums

Recorded live at the Falcon Club, Bude, on Aug. 27, 2014, during the Bude Festival that year.

p.e.k. Sound PKCD-392

 

 

1. In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree

2. The Girls Go Crazy ‘bout the Way I Walk

3. Storyville Blues

4. Oh Lady Be Good

5. The Old Rugged Cross

6. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

7. Georgia Bo Bo

8. My Gal Sal

9. Nyboders Pris (The Praise of Nyboder)

10. Key to the Highway

11. Just a Closer Walk with Thee

12. Lord Lord Lord

13. Canal Street Blues/Goin’ Home

 

Many jazz bands have short lives—they have their “hour upon the stage and then [are] heard no more.” The Savannah Jazz Band is not one of them, having been on stages in the U.K., several European countries, Canada, and cruise ships now for almost four decades and showing no signs of a demise as they already have bookings—half dozen or more per month—through at least the end of 2017.

To date, Lake Records, p.e.k. Records, and (now defunct) Raymer Sound have issued some twenty-five or so recordings of the band, and listening to them one can understand the band’s popularity. This CD from p.e.k. Records is a worthy addition to the band’s discography and adds to that reputation. Despite having no permanent banjo player yet to replace the last one, I believe, the band still has a “tight” sound, the ensemble working together as a unit, not as backing for individuals to display their techniques.

The band leans heavily toward the New Orleans style of collective improvisation, and this is apparent on the first track, In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, and almost every other thereafter. The tune opens with the rhythm section laying down a swinging straight four/four on which the front line can dance. The cornet has a good fat tone and tightly controlled expression, and the trombone and clarinet play their roles below and above that lead. There is nothing frantic—the volume is subdued, no one tries to out-blow any other. Some contrast is provided by the choruses given over to occasional solos by the cornet, clarinet and trombone. These are all interspersed with ensembles choruses or a trombone-plus-clarinet-led chorus, the cornet having dropped out. The two brass instruments add mutes on occasion, and dynamics are always given careful attention. Here and elsewhere, the band plays some choruses so softly that one can almost hear the dancers’ feet shuffling, just as Buddy Bolden liked to do. On the out choruses, the volume is given a gradual, slight crescendo.

The back line also plays a role in all of this, of course. These musicians are not given much to soloing—the banjo takes a solo on only four of the tunes, the bass and drums on none—but their presence is felt, the two stringed instruments laying down a solid four and the drums being impeccably tasteful with tom tom accents and pressed rolls where required—even playing on the rims on Canal Street Blues—cymbals being sparingly used for accents.

Variety is constantly to the fore, whether it be the shifting order of soloists (no repetition of a pattern from tune to tune), the mixture of tempos, the differing dynamics, or even the unexpected rhythm, such as the shuffle rhythm of Key to the Highway. Although there is no piano included in this sextet, yet we are given a few choruses on piano on two tracks by the trombonist. Additional variety is introduced by the occasional solo on alto sax and on harmonica, an instrument that is often found in blues bands.

All of this keeps the listener’s interest high—one never quite knows what to expect next from these talented musicians. To keep everything on a positive note, I will conclude by simply mentioning that about half of the tracks contain vocals.

Those who are familiar with this veteran band will find this CD a worthwhile addition to their collection.

Those who are unfamiliar with the band will find it a useful introduction. At the label’s website http://www.peksound.co.uk one can obtain more information

Bert Thompson



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