Black Swan Classic Jazz Band • Pandemonium – The Syncopated Times
The west coast of the United States has long been blessed with a wide array of traditional jazz groups – professional and semi-professional – from societies and festivals, it seems. Before the COVID virus pandemic, there was a jazz club reunion or festival pretty much every week somewhere in Washington, Oregon, or California – an embarrassment of wealth. Among the West Coast bands is the Black Swan Classic Jazz band of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, founded in 1989. Since then, they have performed in numerous clubs and festivals, both on the West Coast. and elsewhere, like those found in Montana, Arizona, Missouri, Iowa and British Columbia. The group has also released numerous CDs, this being the fourteenth.
Given these credentials, we would expect a good CD, all other things being equal, but things are not. Not only have the group not been able to accept any engagements for over a year, but they have also not been able to record live in a group or in the studio due to the COVID pandemic. However, despite these obstacles, the group managed to overcome them and produce this beautiful CD.
Of the fourteen tracks, three feature original compositions by band members: “Git On Out the Door and Cut to the Bone” by tubaist and frontman Kit Johnson and “Black Swan Glide” by clarinetist Steve Matthes. The first of these is a blue that evokes nuances of “Shake That Thing“ and is reinforced by the voice. Johnson’s other number, “Cut to the Bone”, is, as Johnson says in the libretto notes, a “Turk Murphy-esque” piece, somewhat reminiscent of “Trombone Rag” and, like it, uplifting. Don Stone’s chops are quite up to the task, and he delivers all the notes without a hitch. “Black Swan Glide” is, as its title suggests, a dance number with the sounds of the 20s by Steve Matthes, with a variety of downtime sections of drum brushes and intriguing trombone, trumpet and clarinet solos.
Some of the other tracks on the playlist are quite familiar, such as “My Honey’s Lovin ‘Arms” or “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” lyrics from both, as well as others, sung by Marilyn Keller. Ms. Keller sings on almost half of the songs and displays the right amount of everything: a good bluesy feel, the ability to stay on key, especially when sustaining a note in a ritard, and just enough vibrato. . All of these qualities are present in his interpretation of one of my favorites, “Jelly Bean Blues”. She is by no means a “belter”, but her voice shows passion without having to turn up the volume.
Still on the subject of familiar tunes, some take on a completely different “sound”. An example of this is “San”, which is not just routinely trotted, but a new identity is given to the arrangement. From its opening with a mallet to the accompaniment of toms and tuba; to the trade of the eight followed by the same of the four between trombone, clarinet and trumpet; to what comes closest to a drum solo on record – splash cymbal accents, followed by snare stick work with rim shots, all backed up by stops from the rest of the ensemble , then a return to the opening sequence – the song comes through as a “new” melody.
Other tracks may be less familiar, perhaps not having many releases from other bands – “King Chanticleer” and “Bouncin ‘Around” among them. All of the stops, pauses and modulations of these tunes — and others like “Aggravatin ‘Papa” or “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms” —are sharp like the proverbial whistle. “Bounce back” composers Pierre Bocage and Armand Piron challenged those who would attempt to agree with the difficult opening that the Black Swan group people perform perfectly with the neat little melody closing tag.
Considering how musicians were to record their parts, these were then put together into a whole – and so neatly – it’s a remarkable accomplishment. Nonetheless, I’m sure musicians will be happy to return to conventional playing and recording. Despite the title, I didn’t find the pandemic CD at all; but as Kit Johnson says, “Chaos. It rocks !”
Order details can be found at https://blackswanclassicjazzband.hearnow.com/
BLACK SWAN CLASSIC JAZZ BAND • Pandemonium • Own label
Total time: 68m. 20s.
King Chanticleer; Git on the door *??; When the Midnight Choo Choo leaves for Alabam ‘??; Bounce; Jelly Bean Blues??; The loving arms of my honey??; San; 1919 Chiffon (March); You have to see mom every night (or you can’t see mom at all)??; Down in Honky Tonky town??; Glide of the black swan *; Cut to the bone *; Daddy’s aggravation??; Down in New Orleans??.
* Original compositions
Kit Johnson, tuba & leader (composer tracks 2 and 12); Rick Holzgrafe, cornet; Steve Matthes, clarinet (composer track 11); Don Stone, trombone; Craig McKinley, banjo; John Bennett, piano; Ron Leach, drums; Marilyn Keller, vocals †
No recording details given in the booklet, but Kit Johnson informed me that “The recording was entirely made at my home, affectionately nicknamed “Fast Buck Studios”, a reference to our now German Shorthair past. I just had to bring in the individual musicians one at a time in order to maintain the required social distance and so on. “ The year was 2020.