NO LOCAL STOPS
Jazz Journal, Sept 2020
by Hugh Rainey
American pianist Andrew Oliver has lived in London since 2013, sharing with clarinettist David Horniblow a dedication to authentic-styled recreations of classic vintage jazz. His new solo album features spirited, colourful and thoughtfully planned performances which show confident technical command and grasp of the idiom.
He ranges across the piano styles of classic ragtime, early jazz and blues and 30s stride, with a particular personal interest in Jelly Roll Morton, and the tango rhythms of his “Spanish tinge” concept. Following on from his recent and acclaimed Morton Project album with Horniblow, he includes six of Jelly Roll’s compositions here.
Whilst keeping close to the style and essential feel of Morton’s playing, Oliver sensibly sidesteps pointless close reproduction, and offers some compatible elements of creative re-interpretation.Thus, The Pearls is based on Morton’s later, slower 1938 version for Alan Lomax, the lively Perfect Rag (later retitled Sporting House Rag) draws on both the 1923 and 1938 versions, and the very fine and longer interpretation here of Creepy Feeling was also inspired by the 1938 Library Of Congress recordings. For added interest, the final track was recorded by Oliver acoustically through a large recording horn directly on to a 78 rpm disc, to give an idea how Morton might have sounded if he’d recorded this tune at Gennett in 1923.
Oliver understandably enthuses about the vintage Edwardian era Hamburg Steinway “A” piano used on the album. The low register response is unusually full, dark-toned and sonorous, effectively boosting for example the “tuba” line in The Pearls and adding density to harmonic structures. In effective contrast, the brightly ringing percussive quality in higher register adds clarity and definition to melody statement.
Oliver’s informative track-by-track notes shed helpful and interesting light on the several off-the-beaten track tunes and artists represented on the album. No Local Stops, seldom played, was written by New York stride maestro Willie “The Lion” Smith, Joseph Lamb’s elegant Ethiopia Rag (1909) and Cottontail Rag (1959, surprisingly late), Arthur Schutt’s tricky and attractive Piano Puzzle, Sphinx (based on the 1919 ODJB recording) and Oliver’s own Spanish tinge offering, The Aether, are all particularly interesting. Fellow vintage-style specialist Nicholas Ball adds effective percussive assistance on three tracks.
Thoughtfully planned and very well performed, this welcome tribute to the formative years of jazz piano is highly recommended.
The Observer, 1 Aug 2020
Andrew Oliver: No Local Stops review – a masterclass in early jazz piano
Works by Jelly Roll Morton and other early 20th-century piano greats just fly in the hands of this 21st-century virtuoso
If anyone is going to succeed in rescuing good music from the ghetto called “early jazz”, it will be the pianist Andrew Oliver. I wouldn’t go so far as one critic, who claimed that Oliver was “almost punk-rock” in his approach, but there’s definitely something about his combination of technical brilliance and go-for-broke dynamism that just grabs you.
No Local Stops is a follow-up to last year’s glowingly received Complete Morton Project with clarinettist David Horniblow. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton turns up again here, but this time as one of many piano virtuosos of the early 20th century, among them James P Johnson, Seger Ellis and Willie “the Lion” Smith. The styles vary, from pre-1914 ragtime to Harlem stride of the 1930s. Oliver grasps them all so thoroughly that he adapts, combines, modifies and extends the originals – even includes a composition of his own – and not a note or gesture sounds out of place.
Among this collection of notables, Morton still comes out on top, for his mastery of form if nothing else. But if the skill, intricacy and sheer variety of these 18 pieces tell us anything it’s that “early” doesn’t mean “primitive”.
Sunday Times, July 5 2020
No Local Stops
If you loved the American pianist’s heroic YouTube journey – alongside clarinettist Dave Horniblow – through the Jelly Roll Morton songbook, you’ll be pleased to hear that The Pearls and Mamanita are part of this cultured solo set. James P Johnson’s Carolina Shout turns up as well, but Oliver – part of the spirited band the Dime Notes – has an ear for much rarer pieces too. A collection that blows away the cobwebs. Clive Davis
Vintage Jazz Mart, Summer 2020
DIGITAL ALBUM: NO LOCAL STOPS. Andrew Oliver. The Pearls, No Local Stops, Sentimental Blues, Five O’Clock Stomp, Ethiopia Rag, Piano Puzzle, Creepy Feeling, You Don’t Understand, Freakish, Cottontail Rag, Perfect Rag, Mamanita, Sphinx, Someday Sweetheart, Jelly Roll Stomp, The Aether, Carolina Shout, Bert Williams (18 tracks + 16pp PDF). Rivermont Records. $9.95/£6.99. Also available on CD. BSW-2253. $15.95/£12. https://rivermontrecords.com/ products/2253?variant=31730089328701 (USA). https:// lejazzetal.com/shop/no-local-stops/ (UK).
Andrew Oliver is a pianist, from Portland, Oregon, who settled in London a few years back and has spent some considerable time and effort recording the complete works of Jelly-Roll Morton (available online at https:// http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4NF-ejj1Y434jiGQ5q5z8A and reviewed in VJM Winter 2019). No Local Stops casts a wider canvas: several Morton numbers, certainly, but many more from ragtime (Joseph Lamb), James P Johnson, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and even Arthur Schutt and Seger Ellis. The aim, as Oliver writes in his liner notes, is to present a variety of traditional piano styles, ‘…some of the things that have
caught my ear and fingers the most over the past few years.’
This CD was recorded using a 1904 Steinway piano, which Oliver says ‘has a unique and characteristically dark sound perfectly suited to the repertoire…’. However true that may be listening to the piano ‘live’, my feeling is – and this is my sole criticism of the recording per se – that the bass is sometimes over-represented and blurs the treble response as well as making the rhythm seem slightly ‘heavy’.
The selection opens with a fine rendering of Morton’s The Pearls, blessedly taken at a very moderate tempo, in deference, as Oliver remarks, to the composer’s late 30’s recordings rather than the faster versions of the 1920s. There are five more Morton tunes featured: one of my personal favourites, which he only recorded as part of his Library of Congress conversations with Alan Lomax, is Creepy Feeling. This is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and sensitive of his habañera Spanish-rhythm pieces: Andrew Oliver’s improvisations are somewhat different from Morton’s but every bit as inventive without ever straying from the spirit of the original. Freakish is one of two tracks on which Oliver is backed by drummer Nick Ball, who manages to sound exactly like Tommy Benford on Morton’s trio and quartet records for Victor! Freakish is, for its time, a good description of both the rhythm and harmonies on this forward-looking piece, which stomps along very nicely, with excellent syncopated cross-rhythms. Perfect Rag and Mamanita are both solos Morton recorded in the early 20s: the latter twice, then again in the Library of Congress set, the former, retitled Sporting House Rag, also for General in 1939, but unissued; it’s a fast showpiece and Oliver executes it with verve and a pulsating, swinging left-hand – a terrific performance. Mamanita is another tune in habañera rhythm, with lovely improvisations, but definitely not enhanced for me in the first half by an over-recorded bass line.
It’s a short musical journey from Morton to his acolyte, Frank Melrose, who recorded just six issued solo sides in the 20s (none of them actually bearing his real name on the labels). Drummer Nick Ball returns to accompany Andrew Oliver on his fine interpretation of Jelly Roll Stomp. Another tune closely associated with Jelly-Roll Morton is Someday, Sweetheart, to the extent that his name occasionally appears as a composer credit alongside the Spikes brothers. Oliver’s version is played pleasantly legato and, as he remarks in the liner notes, provides a change of pace from the highly arranged tunes elsewhere on the CD. The title track, No Local Stops, is a Willie ‘The Lion’ composition, which is one I’ve never heard before and is therefore an entirely new addition to my roster of ‘train’ piano! Smith never recorded it and,
apparently, the only version on disc is by Ralph Sutton – which I’ve never heard. It’s easy to understand why it has the name it has: this train thunders along without pause from start to finish – and a very satisfying ride it is too. Some train-style chords open the next track, Seger Ellis’ Sentimental Blues. It’s easy to forget, when considering Ellis’ later career as a crooner, how good his piano playing was, based on Texas blues. Most of the numbers he recorded for Victor were never released, but this one was and Andrew Oliver’s version, whilst stylistically true to the original, offers some new and excellent variations on the theme.
The ragtime composer Joseph Lamb is probably best known for American Beauty Rag, and the two rags chosen for this CD by Andrew Oliver are much in the same style, known as ‘heavy’ rags for their combination of strong melody and advanced keyboard harmonies (Lamb also composed several ‘light’ cakewalk-style rags). Ethiopia Rag was composed in 1909 and is a complex, stately piece with flowing phrases. Oliver makes it even more interesting by interpolating some jazzy, improvised passages. Cottontail Rag was, by contrast, written in 1959, just a year before Lamb died. But it’s very much a classic rag, very similar in style to his early works and given a sensitive performance here, with a lovely bouncing cross-rhythmic bass line.
Jimmy Blythe’s recorded piano solos are both few and extremely rare: he’s best known for his blues accompaniments and rumbustious work in the rhythm section of Southside groups like the ‘State Street Ramblers’ and, in the case of Five O’Clock Stomp, the ‘Dixie Four’. For his rendition of this romp of a performance, Oliver is again joined by Nick Ball on drums, who makes excellent use of the various cymbals and other peripherals of his 1920s drum- kit. Arthur Schutt was a musician in a very different mould, who was a stalwart of the early Red Nichols’ ‘Five Pennies’, and also recorded some solos in London in 1924. His piano style was described by one critic as sounding like he was playing in a room with someone constantly opening and shutting the door in between, and this ‘in-and-out’ feature is audible in his solos with Nichols as well as in his own recording of Piano Puzzle. Andrew Oliver doesn’t attempt to reproduce it in his version, which is a fine, spirited rendering of this piece, which has more than the usual ‘novelty’ value of many 1920s piano compositions.
James P. Johnson’s magnificent stride piano style features on two tracks: Carolina Shout is one of his best-known compositions, though it was hardly ever attempted by other musicians in his lifetime, with the exception of ‘Fats’ Waller. Johnson’s bass lines were extraordinarily complex, with continually shifting rhythms and accents, which made his work very hard to play successfully: the Shout is performed here with perfect aplomb, one of the most exciting tracks on this CD. Johnson recorded You Don’t Understand several times, as accompanist, as leader of his own band and with Clarence Williams, but never solo. Andrew Oliver admits to taking liberties with his interpretation of this pop tune as a stride solo, but it’s a huge success and certainly makes me wish James P had done the same!
Sphinx might seem an odd choice as a piano solo, being one of the many ‘eastern’ tunes, which littered the Tin Pan Alley lists in the first two decades of the last century. It might well – and probably justifiably – have remained an obscurity
had the ODJB not recorded it: it’s not one of their best sides, but this piano version is a much better effort and shows how even the most unpromising material can become fine jazz in the right hands. Those ‘right’ hands are responsible for The Aether, the only Andrew Oliver original on the CD. It’s a composition in the Morton style, in the sense that it has its own ‘Latin tinge’, though based in this case on Brazilian and Martinique rhythms. It’s a splendid example of how such diverse influences can bring an exciting flavour and structure to jazz played in an otherwise traditional style. The final track takes us back to Morton again, but with a difference. Bert Williams is another Library of Congress number, but recorded here as Morton might have done if it had been back in 1923 – acoustically, using a recording horn, though directly onto a 78 disc. The playing is excellent, but the reproduction is not up to the standard even of Gennett, for whom Morton made his first solos. I’m not sure if level of surface hiss has been left deliberately high, but it doesn’t make for comfortable listening!
In these days when so much of jazz piano is rarified and experimental, though there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good to know there are still traditionalists around, and that they’re also ready to experiment with compositions and styles, which weren’t always totally successful first time around. Andrew Oliver is one such pianist and this CD is a tribute to his commitment to playing whatever he chooses at the highest level. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable selection and I loved it.
HOUSE BOUND JAZZ
House Bound Jazz
I downloaded this album the moment I saw it. At the time it was only five tracks with maybe six or seven musicians on board and I had no real expectation there would be more. As of tonight there are 29 tracks featuring 27 musicians playing fiery and authentic 20s jazz. What’s even better is that by the time you are reading this who knows how many more will have contributed.
They coalesce in dozens of small all-star groups on multi-track recordings that can only be described as a creative explosion. The project includes musicians from around the world, some in the top tier of their instruments. Every jazz fan needs to hear it.
House Bound Jazz is a “name your price” album on Bandcamp and I believe I donated a dollar a track for what was there at the time. When new tracks are added I can go back and download them. I have excitedly done so every few days all month. This project is the best thing to come out of quarantine.
The album itself is hosted on the Bandcamp page of Andrew Oliver, an American pianist who has defected to the London early jazz scene. On board from the beginning was multi-instrumentalist and mult-track master Colin Hancock. For years I’ve wanted him to release his own one man band recordings as an album because they capture his unique vision. He’s remarkable at perceiving and recreating minutely specific styles. As he is in tune and in touch with Andrew Oliver and his band mates Colin’s name was welcome but not a surprise. Also not a surprise was New Yorker Mike Davis.
What was a surprise was to see Charlie Halloran in the initial mix. He’s everywhere on recordings out of New Orleans and a regular member of several groups there including the Shotgun Jazz Band. But I’d never seen him playing with any of the others. The potential was there for something great, something that couldn’t happen in normal times.
You can’t always tell who is on what track as some of the groupings are given humorous names but most of them seem to include Oliver, Davis, Michael McQuaid, or Nicholas D. Ball. That core consists of regulars you would hear at the Whitley Bay Jazz Festival.
As for the rest I don’t have space to name their instruments but you should recognize a few of them if you’ve been reading our paper long; Dave Bock, Sebastien Girardot, Joe Dessauer, Josh Duffee, Ryan Gould, Matt Holborn, David Jellema, Dave Kelbie, Jon-Erik Kellso, Chris Lowe, Malo Mazurié, John Moak, David Sager, Doug Sammons, Dee Settlemier, Matthias Seuffert, Andy Schumm, Tyson Stubelek, Enrico Tomasso, Martin Wheatley, and Jacob Zimmerman. By the time your read this there may be others.
The music, primarily instrumental, rises far above anything you would expect from this multi-continental arrangement. These are expert musicians and a little pandemic won’t stop the creative juices from flowing. I can’t even pretend to fully appreciate how good this album is yet, but I know I’ll be enjoying it long after we’ve found a new normal. If you’ve been looking for a way to support the jazz artists we’ll need around to make high quality jazz in the future contribute what you can to this project. Proceeds are shared among the musicians.
Vintage Jazz Mart Summer 2020
DIGITAL ALBUM: HOUSE BOUND JAZZ. Andrew Oliver and Friends. Persian Rug, Sittin’ On The Curbstone Blues, Smoke House Blues, Stomp Time Blues, Stock Yards Strut, Little Girl, Blue Lester, South Side Strut, Blind Boone’s Southern Rag Medley, No. 2, Crazy Blues, Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home, Shreveport, Cannon Ball Blues, Endurance Stomp, Weather Bird, London Blues, Blowin’ Off Steam, The Throw Down Blues, Blue Grass Blues, Renée (Biguine), I Wish I Were Twins, Georgia Grind, Come On, Red, Oh! Sister, Ain’t That Hot?, Deep Trouble, Shim Me Sha Wabble, There’s No Gal Like My Gal, Blind Boone’s Southern Rag Medley, No. 1, Lookin’ Good but Feelin’ Bad, If Your Kisses Can’t Hold The Man You Love (30 tracks). Bandcamp. Unnumbered. Name your price. https:// andrewoliver.bandcamp.com/album/house-bound-jazz.
Professional musicians have been particularly hard hit by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Their world of bars, clubs, theatres, wedding venues, concert halls was one of the first to experience lockdown, and will be one of the last to emerge once restrictions start to be lifted.
With this in mind, London-based American pianist Andrew Oliver came up with an idea to pass the unexpected and unrequested surfeit of spare time on his hands, and hopefully bring in some money too. As he told me: “The original idea was to just do some overdubs of small group 20s jazz since we weren’t doing anything else, and all work had suddenly dried up, so I sent out an email to a bunch of musicians I know around the world in late March and everyone was super up for the project. Some people provided arrangements and transcriptions they had done, and I transcribed and arranged some new stuff as well, so by now we’ve ended up with a very wide mix of material ranging from solos, duets and trios in various styles to 8-piece 20s hot dance bands to 30s swing.” Andrew’s ‘bunch of musicians’ includes some of the biggest and brightest names in the world of contemporary
Classic Jazz – Andy Schumm, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Sager, Martin Wheatley, Dave Bock, Colin Hancock, Michael McQuaid, Josh Duffee, Nicholas Ball, and a host of others, all working from homes as far afield as Portland, Oregon, New York, Paris, Cologne, Austin, Texas, New Orleans, Seattle, and London.
There were several technical teething problems for Andrew to overcome, not least the variable quality of the musicians’ home recording equipment, and their skills at using it. Far worse was the challenge of getting a cohesive rhythm section together when the participants are continents apart. Suffice to say, Andrew has done a terrific job in overcoming these technical and artistic hurdles, resulting in some spectacularly fine music.
As Andrew mentions above, several of the tracks are transcriptions of jazz classics from the 1920s and 30s, and the clues often manifest themselves in the often quirky band names. Thus the ‘Croydona Dance Orchestra’s Come On Red is a note-for-note recreation of the ‘Savoy Havana Band’s 1924 version, issued on Regal pseudonymously as by the ‘Corona Dance Orchestra’, complete with trumpeter Mike Davis’s interpretation of Vernon Ferry’s 12-bar blues solo. Saxophonist Mike McQuaid has all Al Starita’s tricks and tone off pat, and the whole band convey a lovely 1924-ish feel. Likewise, ‘Hancock’s New Orleans Orchestra’s Sittin’ On The Curbstone Blues pays homage to Armand Piron and his ‘New Orleans Orchestra’. The immensely talented young African American multi-instrumentalist Colin Hancock not only transcribed the arrangement, but also plays cornet and tuba on this lilting version of a Creole jazz classic.
Not all the tracks are slavish recreations of classic jazz recordings – there are a number of tracks where ‘inspired by’ rather than ‘copied from’ takes precedence; for instance Don Ewell’s South Side Strut performed by Seattle-based clarinettist Jacob Zimmerman, with a Mortonesque Andrew Oliver at the ivories and Joe Dessauer at the drums. The whole performance sounds as as if it should have been made at the same time as Jelly Roll Morton’s Shreveport session! Speaking of which, the aforesaid title also turns up on the set, with German clarinettist Matthias Seuffert taking the Omer Simeon role, with Oliver and Nicholas Ball rounding up the band in an excellent, spirited rendition. One finds it hard to believe that the participants were not in the same room together, which is praise indeed, given the circumstances.
Another track where the clue of the origin is in the name is ‘McQuaid’s Ambassadors’ The Throw Down Blues, a transcription by Michael McQuaid of ‘The Ambassadors’ 1924 Vocalion recording that featured a pre-Bixian Red
Nichols, Miff Mole and the inimitable Jack Pettis. McQuaid himself takes the Pettis part, but somehow he doesn’t quite capture the essence of Pettis – the airy tone, and the loping ‘Northwestern’ beat that easily identifies his presence on any record. But, to be fair, is there anyone alive who could? Veteran banjoist and guitarist Martin Wheatley excels himself on this and many other tracks, with the perfect John Cali- esque shuffle rhythm of the original.
McQuaid is back again as arranger and soloist on the utterly delicious Blowin’ Off Steam, transcribed from the ‘New Orleans Owls’ 1926 Columbia record. Cornetist Andy Schumm takes a great, driving solo based on Bill Padron’s on the record, maintaining the authenticity of the original while imbuing it with his own personality, and McQuaid’s alto sax solo is a thing of beauty, and one which Benjie White himself would surely have nodded approval to!
Oliver and Jelly’s ‘Red Hot Peppers’ Cannon Ball Blues is taken at a slower tempo than Morton’s Victor, but does not suffer in comparison. New Orleans trombonist Charlie Halloran has a fantastically broad, gutsy, deep tone, and his tailgate style is pure Kid Ory. Guitarist David Kelbie plays a nice solo that Johnny St. Cyr would have been proud of, whilst Nicholas Ball’s subtle percussion gets my approval – and I’m a harsh critic in this particular department as I’ve loved the drumming of Andrew Hilaire since I was a teenager!
Another ‘inspired by’ track that really works is Kennedy and Oliver’s ‘Mellow Four’ version of Persian Rug. One has to assume that Andrew Oliver didn’t have immediate access to a church organ (given that they are all barred to congregants and musicians alike at the time of writing), so he does the next best thing and duets at the piano with fellow American pianist Scott Kennedy in a stride piano tour de force. Trumpeter Mike Davis fits very nicely into the role of the subdued but tasteful Jabbo Smith on the original, whilst the ubiquitous Michael McQuaid weaves a sinuous and swinging alto sax solo through Garvin Bushell’s rather stodgy original part – he was never my favourite reedman, I have to say…
The two Jimmie Noone Apex Club ‘recreations’ – Oh! Sister, Ain’t That Hot? and Deep Trouble are delightfully swinging performances, with Messrs. McQuaid and Zimmerman taking the Noone and Poston parts respectively, with Oliver’s Hinesy piano solo, all driven along by Nicholas Ball’s subtle Johnny Wells-inspired drumming; you can tell he’s done his homework.
‘McQuaid’s Melody Boys’ take on the ‘Original Memphis Melody Boys’ 1923 version of There’s No Gal Like My Gal, arranged by the nominal leader, features some fiery trumpet from Colin Hancock and excellent two-part clarinet and tenor sax contributions from McQuaid, Ball on drums, and Hancock, not content with taking the lead, also plays tuba.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to these 30 performances; not every one comes up to the high standard of those mentioned above – some tracks, especially the Oliver- Hancock duets in the manner of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, lack the essential electric spark ignited when two hugely talented musicians at the top of their game were in the same room, indulging in musical prizefighting, but how could that be when their modern counterparts are 5000 miles apart?
One can hope that there may be an opportunity for a rematch of this particular prize fight when Andrew and Colin are in the same room – I for one will look forward to the result!
There is an awful lot of good music to be heard here and, if you are feeling stingy, it can be free to download but, remember these guys have done this for nothing, at a time when their income from performing is zero, so do the decent thing and click on ‘Buy The Digital Track’ or, better still, ‘Buy The Full Album’ buttons. You can pay as much or as little as you want, and Andrew Oliver told me that all the money will be shared equally among the musicians, so let’s see VJM readers show their support – you won’t be disappointed!
THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT
THE SUNDAY TIMES 28.07.2019
The Complete Morton Project
Jelly Roll Morton was never shy about singing his own praises, but today he often doesn’t get the credit he’s due as a jazz composer. Kudos to this British-based piano and clarinet duo — more often seen as part of that elegant outfit the Dime Notes — for plunging into the repertoire. Starting out with the goal of recording all Morton’s tunes on YouTube (a fascinating watch, by the way), they’ve now boiled down the selection to a mix of standards and less familiar pieces. Compelling, soulful and huge fun.
Vintage Jazz Mart – Autumn 2019
CD: THE COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT – Andrew Oliver & David Horniblow. 15 tracks Lejazzetal LJCD21 http://www.lejazzetal.com https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4NF-ejjiY434jiGQ5q5z8A
Andrew Oliver comes from Portland, Oregon and David Horniblow from Reading in Berkshire; both studied and initially played classical piano and clarinet. Having turned to jazz, they worked their way through swing and more modern styles in their respective countries, but eventually returned to the jazz of the 20s, both determined to play it in the most authentic way possible. Oliver emigrated to the UK 6 years ago and they met by chance in London, where they formed the Dime Notes, a band that plays new interpretations of ‘20s and ‘30s jazz; and the Vitality Five, described in the liner notes as “a raucous group playing ‘20s small group stomps and jazz.” A couple of years ago, having featured a number of Morton’s best-known numbers, they decided to learn, play and record them all. You can hear the complete ‘book’ at the YouTube address at the head of this review. This CD offers a selection from the well-known to the utterly obscure recesses of Morton’s compositions, but in much better technical quality than is possible on the Net. Its stated aim is to show how, as the first true jazz composer, he fitted into the shift from early head-arranged jazz to the highly complex written arrangements of the later big bands. It’s worth remembering that Morton copyrighted Original Jelly-Roll Blues in 1905 – and that would have required a written version to be submitted. As the liner notes point out, many of his compositions were quite revolutionary for their time, and though he spent most of the 30s in near total obscurity, his final sets of recordings feature some fine 30s-style pop tunes; and a set of “fascinating big band manuscripts came to light in the 1990s”, which showed that he was not as set in his musical ways as many critics have suggested. One of these arrangements is featured on this CD
Now, there is no jazz figure dearer to my heart than Jelly-Roll Morton: I can have been little more than 3 years old when I first put Georgia Swing on the turntable of my uncle’s home-made electric gramophone, which I later inherited when he produced something more sophisticated to deal with vinyl. I somehow managed to play my way through his entire Morton HMV Memorial Album, without breaking a single one, which I also, in due course, inherited from him: remarkable, really, considering the several other priceless items that ended up in the waste bin! So this CD would, I hoped, be a real treat. And it is…
It kicks off with a spirited rendition of Shreveport Stomp, taken at a very fast tempo indeed, much faster than the original, and one which shows off Horniblow’s remarkable dexterity on the clarinet: he spills out an extraordinary array of arpeggios across one chorus in particular. Oliver’s piano provides not only a rocking accompaniment, but also re-creates very well Morton’s ability to shift the rhythm back and forth behind the soloist, creating a fine tension between the two players.
Croc-o-Dile Cradle is a piece I’ve never heard before. The sheet music was discovered by Vince Giordano, and it has been recorded by a couple of other bands. It’s a fine and quite intricate number, typically Mortonesque in its structure, and beautifully played here: the piano is especially good in its suggestion of how the composer would have rendered it. Oliver’s left-hand work is extraordinarily faithful to Morton’s style. Gan Jam is another obscure number, written as a big band score by Morton shortly before his death and is something of an experimental departure from his usual output. Horniblow adds bass clarinet on this track, which is an interesting mix of ‘jungle’ harmonies and much more modern semi-classical strains; it’s one of the least obvious Morton items, being much more modernistic in its structure and style – but also one of the most interesting and compelling on this CD.
Morton recorded State and Madison as part of his Library of Congress set; it’s a stately piece with, as the notes point out, “some unusual twists and turns.” Finger Buster, on the other hand, was one of the piano solos he recorded in 1938 in Washington, just before his first come-back session for Victor. It was one of several that were apparently made privately; Morton claimed Finger Buster was the most difficult jazz piano piece ever written; it certainly requires a lot of manual dexterity! What’s interesting, though, is that it works very well here, with Horniblow on the bass-sax, providing a Rollini-like rhythm line! Oliver turns in a tour de force but the sax is rather under-recorded. Courthouse Bump is one of the rarer Morton orchestral records: it perfectly suits the duet format and Horniblow’s bass clarinet line is beautiful.
Morton never recorded an instrumental version of Stratford Hunch: Louis Armstrong did, as Chicago Breakdown, though it was not issued until the late 30s. The version here remains more faithful to Morton’s solo conception, but includes part of Louis’ trumpet solo as a tribute. Mama Nita was likewise a piano solo, for Gennett in 1924, the same session that produced his solo version of the previous track. This one is notable for the dexterous interplay between the piano and clarinet across the habañera rhythm, the ‘Spanish tinge’ that Morton so often stressed was integral to good jazz.
With Good Old New York, we come to an example of the late Morton orchestral numbers he recorded for General Tavern Tunes in 1940, as he tried to compete in the ‘pop’ market of the time. It’s hardly one of his best efforts, though his own version is noteworthy for Albert Nicholas’ fine clarinet playing. Horniblow and Oliver make the best of this in a high-speed romp. By contrast, Freakish, one of Morton’s most distinctive and modernistic piano solos from the 20s, is a good vehicle for both talents: they once again delight in the cross-rhythms of the habañera. I Hate A Man Like You was written for Lizzie Miles, whom Morton accompanied on one of his rare side-man sessions, in 1929. As the liner notes remark, this is a dark, minor-key number, and it’s ideally suited to a small group format, where the brooding melody line is clear and incisive. The clarinet playing here has a strong emotional impact.
Another of Morton’s ‘darker’ orchestral recordings is Jungle Blues – written on a single chord, which ought to have made it much more popular with revivalists than it was! Here it’s a piano solo with, once again, a walking bass-sax rhythm line. Oliver gives a fine account of this under-performed number. With Black Bottom Stomp, we return to one of Morton’s big hits, played with great fire, but at such a breathless pace that the replication of the solos from the original is partly lost in the headlong rush to the final chord. There is, I think, a tendency to overestimate the tempo of Morton’s fast numbers (and probably those of other bands as well!): they’re almost always played slower than one remembers, and Black Bottom Stomp is no exception. Mr Jelly Lord is thankfully taken at a most stately pace: the bass-sax is much more audible here than elsewhere, backing some very fine improvisations on the piano and taking several good breaks. The CD closes with Morton’s last commercial recording My Home Is In A Southern Town. The piano line verges on an eight-to-the-bar rhythm and the clarinet contributes some excellent middle-register work on yet another little-known number. The Morton Sevens and Sextets are unjustly shunned by many collectors: I’ve heard them described as “just not Morton” – which is far from the truth. The fact is that Morton’s composing style and genius shines through on all these tracks; he wasn’t infallible, and some numbers are less successful than others, but David Horniblow and Andrew Oliver have rendered a great service to us all by rescuing so many compositions from obscurity and providing us with this selection from the complete canon, occasional Mortonian warts and all!
The Complete Morton Project unrolled on YouTube throughout 2018, at a rate of two tunes a week. It consisted of all 93 (or was it 94?) pieces known to have been composed by Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, alias Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941), played by these two hugely accomplished musicians. It was an epic undertaking and important for several reasons.
To begin with, it reveals the unexpected breadth of Morton’s stylistic range, from the stomps and blues of the 1920s to his very personal takes on the “jungle” style popularised by Ellington in the early 1930s, big-band music of the swing era and the classic American song form. Mostly, these later pieces were part of his attempt to get himself back into fashion, but the skill and ingenuity involved are undeniable.
Morton himself was a virtuoso and he made sure that in most of his compositions there was something that would not only demonstrate his superiority at the keyboard, but also show up the inferiority of anyone else brave enough to try. To ensure that the real thing got a hearing, he began making piano rolls of his own playing in 1908 and phonograph recordings from 1923 onwards. I have listened to quite a few of these alongside the Oliver-Horniblow versions and, take it from me, the playing on the latter would have made Jelly Roll Morton gulp. It’s not just that they get all the right notes in the right place, they do it with a confidence that seems almost casual at times. They put some of their own bits in, too, but they’ve got the idiom so well that you’d have to go back to the originals and check. I started doing that with Shreveport Stomp, but I was enjoying it so much I kept losing my place. So that’s another important thing: it’s brilliantly played and madly enjoyable.
As to instrumentation, Morton seems to have been happy to adapt any piece to what was available, and I imagine he would have been delighted with this duo. It’s mainly piano and clarinet (think Johnny Dodds, Omer Simeon and Volly DeFaut), but also, at times, piano and bass clarinet and even bass saxophone. No kazoos or jugs required.
It will not have escaped your notice that this CD, rather confusingly titled The Complete Morton Project, contains rather fewer than 93 pieces. That’s because it’s a selection, specially recorded in studio conditions, with a concert piano. The whole lot is still up there on YouTube (just search for Complete Morton Project), but the spacious, glowing sound of these 16 tracks is beyond anything that Jelly Roll Morton could have imagined in his lifetime. They lift his music out of the rarely visited bin marked “Early Jazz” and bring it unignorably to life.
THE SYNCOPATED TIMES 21.07.2019
The Complete Morton Project
The Complete Morton Project refers not to the completeness of this particular album but to the lofty goal of its participants to learn and record as a duo all 93 of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions, including his rarest.
In 2018, they began posting YouTube videos of their arrangements recorded in an apartment and the delicacy and buoyancy of their performances attracted jazz fans the world over. Both musicians on the screen were however already established and well known in the field. They’ve even played together in The Dime Notes, and more recently The Vitality Five, highly respected traditional jazz bands with slightly different focuses.
Andrew Oliver is a pianist from Portland Oregon who got his start in classical piano, fell in love with ragtime and early jazz, and studied music at Loyola in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina. In 2007 he toured Africa with Jazz at Lincoln Center. When he got home he founded the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble and toured with groups playing both modern chamber jazz and traditional jazz before relocating to London in 2013 and concentrating his efforts solely on the early styles. He draws on the greats for inspiration which made this project a natural fit. In fact, the light bulb went off when he and Horniblow were rehearsing yet another Morton piece to add to the repertoire of their full band.
David Horniblow is from Reading in the UK and studied classical clarinet. He started his jazz career playing swing and modern styles, but his first fascination had been early Duke Ellington. He followed up an opportunity to play with Keith Nichol’s by joining the Chris Barber Band. He’s played with Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, and all the legends of British Trad still active during his tenure. In addition to his work with The Dime Notes and The Vitality Five, he leads Horniblow’s Hot Three and appears with a number of other traditional jazz acts active around London.
Though this project may have started on YouTube this album was recorded in a professional studio under the best circumstances. Oliver had use of a Steinway grand piano, Horniblow occasionally grabs the rarely heard bass sax. Having the Youtube versions available is no reason not to treat yourself to this disc. Comparing both gave me a fine appreciation of what a studio offers, even at the expense of that spontaneous bedroom feel. The pure musical beauty on display in the videos suffers not at all for the better acoustics.
Extensive liner notes written by Andrew Oliver accompany attractive packaging from the lejazzetal label. They explain that to explore the Morton compositions is to explore the very earliest stew of New Orleans jazz, including elements of blues, Spanish influences from the Caribbean, the inspirations of ragtime improvisers, and the musical understanding of classically trained Creoles like Morton himself. While Morton’s claim to have invented jazz is dubious he was the first of the great jazz composers, and because most even into the early 20s weren’t putting their jazz creations to paper his record is an important glimpse at the past and a continuing source of inspiration for those wishing to explore it.
“Morton’s early compositions… show an advanced compositional mind at work, creating unique and complex forms, sweeping melodies and potent counterpoint and, most importantly, allowing for improvisation and variation in a true jazz style, all before 1920!”
This 15 track release includes the most obscure Morton while also covering the full length of his career. “Good Old New York” has Morton sliding into the 30s tin pan alley pop market. To draw attention to the Spanish tinge they include “Mamanita”, dedicated to a lady Morton pursued at two different stages of his life. “Jungle Blues” is a one-chord tour de force that shows him decades ahead of his time. Oliver and Horniblow play it with the power of a full orchestra. In fact, they amaze with the depth, nuance, and rhythm they draw out of each of these titles.
Covering everything as a duo leads to some unusual situations. Late in his career, shortly before his death, Morton wrote some arrangements for big band that were only unearthed in the 90s. They have since been recorded at the proper scale but for this album, one of them, “Gan Jam”, had to be pared down to fit a piano duo. “Croc-O-Dile Cradle” was only recently discovered in Vince Giordano’s massive collection of arrangements. The Fat Babies recorded it for their band but we hear it here in concentrated form.
Not everything on the disc is a rarity, they lead off with the familiar “Shreveport Stomp”. It’s a smart way to bring the audience on board. Late in the album, they also include “Black Bottom Stomp” and “Mr. Jelly Lord”, which captures Morton’s famous braggadocio.
This is an album of pure traditional jazz that is getting well deserved recognition far beyond our walled confines, and for good reason. Oliver and Horniblow play with a freshness and creativity within the style that is undeniable even to those who wouldn’t normally have ears to hear. What these two accomplish with these compositions is a testament to Morton’s greatness but also to their own unquestionable talent and to the power of jazz itself to be ever new, raw, and moving.
JAZZ WAX 10.07.2019
The Complete Morton Project
New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton is widely considered to be jazz’s first arranger. Though jazz was considered an improvised form early on, Morton proved that jazz could retain its joyous, freewheeling feel even when scored on music paper. He also was jazz’s first published composer. His Jelly Roll Blues was published in 1915. As a composer, Morton was a powerful force, writing the standards King Porter Stomp, Wolverine Blues and Black Bottom Stomp. He also was among the first jazz musicians to be ripped off in a sizable way.
Despite having written dozens of songs that had been recorded and performed with great success by other leading bands since the start of the swing era, Morton had consistently been denied membership in ASCAP. As a result, he didn’t receive a dime in royalties for the performances of his music in concerts, on jukeboxes and on the radio. In the 1930s, ASCAP was exclusively for Broadway’s white, legit songwriters whose songs generated sizable income in New York and Hollywood.
During this period, jazz was thought of as junk music by ASCAP, which considered the originality of jazz compositions suspect, since the blues was a public domain construct. It wasn’t until 1939, with the formation of BMI, that musicians who played jazz, R&B, country, blues and other popular folk styles found a performing rights organization that welcomed their membership and protection.
Getting back to Morton, who died in 1941, a sensational new album has been released by two extraordinary musicians—pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinetist/saxophonist David Horniblow. The album is The Complete Morton Project, featuring 15 songs by Morton. The tracks represents a fraction of what’s coming. Oliver and Horniblow have recorded all of Morton’s original songs, which number around 95. One suspects more will appear as funding becomes available. The songs on this first album are Shreveport Stomp, Croc-O-Dile Cradle, Gan Jam, State and Madison, Finger Buster, Courthouse Bump, Stratford Hunch, Mamanita, Good Old New York, Freakish, I Hate a Man Like You, Jungle Blues, Black Bottom Stomp, Mr. Jelly Lord and My Home Is in a Southern Town. To learn more about each individual song, visit Andrew Oliver’s site, where he has posted about them.
What you hear on this new album are two excellent musicians embracing the musical life of a jazz icon who was short-changed while he was alive. The Complete Morton Project not only lets us hear the breathtaking quality of Morton’s piano (thanks to the magnificence of Oliver) but it also serves up the piano with reeds (thanks to Horniblow) clear and vibrant, with all of the excitement intact. Most of Morton’s original recordings suffer from the limitations of technology in the 1920s and ’30s. Now, with this new album, we finally can hear Morton’s original work with the sonic grime wiped off. The result is spirited foot-tapping music that illustrates a turning point in the evolution of syncopation and the emergence of a piano sound that emulated the jazz orchestra.
JAZZ DA GAMA 02.07.2019
A soundtrack for what is almost a period narrative using the rarest of rare material
American pianist Andrew Oliver and British reeds and woodwinds player David Horniblow have been heard together recently as part of The Dime Notes, a group dedicated to playing in the tradition of Jazz; playing music that is specifically dedicated to preserving the New Orleans style. In fact Mr Oliver is a pianist almost completely immersed in the New Orleans style of playing, a relative rarity these days. For his part Mr Horniblow is no less immersed in that style of playing and indeed his playing often evokes the high and lonesome clarinet of George Lewis and Barney Bigard. So it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the two musicians would get together to traverse that time when the style of playing was most prominent – at the turn of the 20th century, that is.
The welcome surprise is that the duo should make their journey one that uncovers hidden, rarely played and perhaps even lost compositions by the great Jelly Roll Morton. A “surprise” but also something that is crying out to be heard, not only because it would appear that there is a contemporary trend in music to play improvised music and pass it off as Jazz. Musicians are just as guilty of doing so as are music industry executives with precious little knowledge of the history of Jazz. The result is a burgeoning music industry that tries to pass itself off as something that it isn’t; in this case – “Jazz”. On the flip-side, when a recording as masterful as this one comes around, one should be at the ready to recognize its importance, its authenticity and its remarkable beauty.
Jelly Roll Morton was a seminal figure who ruled the roost, so to speak, when Jazz was young, even going so far as to claim that he invented the art of Jazz. Truth be told, he was responsible for a number of “firsts” including recognising the importance of “the music ensemble” and writing idiomatically for the several instruments that made up this (then) so-called Jass “ensemble”. He was also the first to make the connection between classical forms, the Blues, and was almost alone in bringing Spanish traditional forms from Afro-Caribbean music into Jazz – or what he now-famously called “the Spanish tinge”. Best of all, Mr Morton brought together Black American music – the Blues – together with European forms; perhaps even create the first Jazz composition.
Mr Oliver and Mr Horniblow have done remarkable work in transcribing some of Mr Morton’s all-but-forgotten; even so-called “lost” work in this breathtaking hour-long disc. But more than reminding us where the music of Jazz comes from, this disc creates the vivid soundtrack for what is almost a period narrative using the rarest of rare material. The duo operates as a partnership of equals and supplies the ear-worms throughout. Mr Morton’s compositions are, of course, the main attraction – dancing melodies, insistent rhythms and breathtaking harmonies with the added attraction of breathtaking harmonies tossed from pianist to reeds/woodwind player and back in a devilishly brilliant manner.
The music of Jelly Roll Morton is proudly flown as the flag of the seminal music of Jazz throughout. But even if the music is the main attraction one cannot help being struck by the invention of each of the musicians playing here; Mr Oliver, for his part maintains swagger and swing through each interpretation holding fort especially in the long inventions of “Jungle Blues”, for instance. Mr Horniblow, for his part, plays clarinet and bass clarinet – as well as the lugubrious bass saxophone played here with tremulous delicacy on “Mr Jelly Lord” – with lithe and elegant warmth and swing weaving the tantalizing symmetry of Mr Morton’s melodic lines masterfully into the grand scheme of the songs. Both performers negotiate Mr Morton’s diabolical music with expertise, eloquence and good taste that is both rare and welcome music today in this worthy tribute to one of the great pillars of Jazz – Jelly Roll Morton.
RAUL DA GAMA
THE OBSERVER 30.06.2019
the joy of Jelly Roll
Have you seen those two guys on YouTube? They’re fantastic!” The word got round last year about pianist Andrew Oliver and clarinettist David Horniblow, who had set themselves the apparently lunatic task of learning all the 94 compositions of Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and recording and posting videos of the whole lot by the end of 2018. Not only did they succeed, their playing was so dynamic and heartfelt that I really missed them when they’d finished.
I thought I knew Morton, the first jazz composer, pretty well, but some of what these two had played was quite new to me. More important, their approach, although perfectly authentic in style, had a freshness and immediacy that was all their own. These 15 numbers, rerecorded in a proper studio, with a concert piano, make an impressive selection from a fascinating life’s work.
Morton (1890-1941) started out playing ragtime in New Orleans brothels, becoming a popular bandleader and recording artist in the 1920s, only to fall out of fashion in later life. Nowadays he tends to get patronisingly labelled as “early jazz”. These spirited and accomplished performances bring his music vividly to life.
THE DIME NOTES
BLUES IN BRITAIN – 01.10.2018
Under the CD in the jewel-case it states “early jazz, stomps and swing” and that does indeed sum up what’s on offer here.
This is most definitely not the frantic and noisy “Trad-jazz” that use to be found in many pubs across the land. London based group The Dime Notes seem to have gone right back to the source for its inspiration, and despite the members’ relative youth, this quartet has a mature and subtle approach that makes the CD a very listenable release for those with an interest in the early days of jazz or 1920s and 1930s New Orleans sounds.
Clarinet player David Horniblow, American pianist and leader Andrew Oliver, guitarist Dave Kelbie and bassist Tom Wheatley draw heavily on the music of Jelly Roll Morton, who himself drew heavily on the blues. There are four of his numbers here, alongside lesser-known material from the likes of Sidney Bechet, WC “Father Of The Blues” Handy and Fletcher Henderson. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you appreciate good vintage jazz do check it out – and if you get the chance, wrap your taste buds around their rather nice chocolate too (though you will have to catch them live for that)!
YVES GUSTIN – 01.07.2018
14 titres de jazz et en plus une tres bonne tablette de chocolat tres Old!
Le CD comporte 14 titres de jazz et en plus une tres bonne tablette de chocolat tres Old! Les Dime Notes se sont donnes pour mission de reprendre le repertoire du debut du jazz. Ceci me rapelle les moments ou j’ecoutais dans me jeunesse Claude Luter (1923-2006) qui jouait dans ses debuts avec ses amis sous les arcades des Galeries Lafayettes a Paris. A l’epoque, on prenait son temps. Un peu de nostalgie ne fait pas de mal.
Quatre bons musicians : Andrew Oliver au piano, David Horniblow au clarinette, Dave Kelbie a la guitare et Tom Wheatley a la contrebasse.
JAZZ MAGAZINE – 01.05.2018
Un retour aux sources rafraîchissant
Nouveauté. Interprétés par un quartette anglais, les grands standards du jazz originel prennent ici les couleurs les plus pimpantes. Un retour aux sources rafraîchissant dans la mesure où souffle ici l’esprit des pionniers de la Nouvelle-Orléans, Jelly Roll Morton ou Sidney Bechet. Il imprègne ces versions qui ne tombent jamais dans les excès, copie servile ou actualisation intempestive, mais témoignent d’une fidélité aux figures tutélaires du premier jazz.
THE SUNDAY TIMES 19.03.2017
“The Dime Notes”
One thing we tend to forget, squabbling over discographies, is how sexy this brand of early jazz can be. It’s easy to assume that Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet et al can’t speak to a younger generation, but the pianist Andrew Oliver’s quartet lays that notion to rest. David Horniblow’s clarinet and Tom Wheatley’s double bass dig in deep on numbers imbued with the habanera – or what Morton called “the Spanish tinge”. The guitarist Dave Kelbie won many admirers with his poised chamber group Django à la Créole: this line-up is every bit as inspired.
JAZZ LIVES 30.8.2017
“THE DIME NOTES” ADD UP TO HOT JAZZ PLEASURE
Before you ask the pressing question, please look under D: Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary defines “dime note” as a ten-dollar bill.
It’s also the name of a rocking, utterly satisfying new band. Cab would approve.
THE DIME NOTES are Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet; Dave Kelbie, guitar; Tom Wheatley, string bass. And you can get a good idea of where their hearts lie by their chosen repertoire; ORIGINAL JELLY ROLL BLUES, ALABAMY BOUND, AUNT HAGAR’S CHILDREN’S BLUES, BLACK STICK BLUES, THE PEARLS, T’AIN’T CLEAN, SI TU VOIS MA MERE, THE CAMEL WALK, THE CRAVE, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, OLE MISS, TURTLE TWIST, WHAT A DREAM. The first thing one notices is the presence of Morton, then Bechet, a few “jazz classics” with associations to Fats, W. C. Handy, and then compositions nobody plays: what band is delving into the Boyd Senter repertoire these days? There’s also an original composition by Andrew, OTIS STOMP, “inspired by a small Oregon town called Otis Junction,” as Evan Christopher’s lavish liner notes tell us.
But a tune list is just that: some lesser bands would take this one and create something admiring yet completely dessicated. Heroic, admiring copies of venerable 78s in twenty-first century sound. That line of work can be a great pleasure, in person and on record, but THE DIME NOTES have come to play, which they do splendidly, with heartfelt understanding of all the music that has come before them and what its open possibilities are right now.
And here’s the secret of this engaging little group (a quartet that will not make you lonesome for a cornet, trombone, or drums): THEY SWING. Let that sink in. Some groups that have given their study and energy to the music of the Twenties and early Thirties seem to have made it a point of honor to keep the rhythmic styles of the great innovators as they were, as if the way the music propelled itself in 1937 would be an insult to a composition first performed fifteen years earlier. I don’t mean that this band plays hot jazz with a side dish of Dizzy, Bird, and Al Haig — but they do know that Count Basie walked the earth and improved it seriously. So THE DIME NOTES benefit not only from the magnificent playing of each of the four instrumentalists, but they understand how to work together as a supple, rocking small ensemble. To me, they are the Guarnieri Quartet of Hot.
They can swagger and soar and make it seem as if the disc in the player — the player itself — is about to take off and rocket around the room. But they can also be tender and quiet, deeply lyrical, sorrowing, when the song calls for it. And the disc is certified gimmick-free: no jokes, no tricks played on the listener.
This band is frankly irresistible.
And I’ve read somewhere that The Dime Notes are the only band I know to have its (their?) own chocolate bar, on sale in Whole Foods in the UK. Until that commodity crosses my path, my hand, or my lips, I will content myself with their sounds. Here you can buy their CD, or their “vinyl,” and see a video of them in performance. Better than chocolate. Longer-lasting.
MUMBLE MUSIC 02.06.2017
The Dime Notes at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh 01.06.2017 by Sophie Younger
This lively ensemble bring to life the early years of the New Orleans jazz scene. This jumpin band is led by Portland born Andrew Oliver on piano, with an impressive background in jazz and composition, he studied jazz in New Orleans and has played in a number of bands including Tunnel Six. David Horniblow from the UK on the clarinet, who has played with the three B’s of British jazz Barber, Ball and Bilk, and has also recorded with Jools Holland. Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, a notable jazz and gypsy music accompanist and Tom Wheatley, a native Londoner on acoustic bass, prominent in jazz circles and known for reviving the ‘slap’.
Jazz was originally referred to as jazm meaning “pep or energy”. This lively, energetic and fast paced set certainly keeps to the original definition with the audience tapping their feet and hands to the laid back tunes of Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet and others as well as Andrew’s own compositions. The ‘jelly roll blues’ published in 1915, an early jazz foxtrot composed by Morton, a pivotal figure in early jazz, was the first to notate and arrange jazz which had previously been improvised. Andrew Oliver being a fan since his teens the set featured a number of songs by Jelly Roll Morton. Morton started to play the piano at the age of 14 in a brothel, however when his grandmother found out she kicked him out of her house, as jazz at that time was getting a bad press and was associated with brothels and alcohol which was prohibited from 1920 to 1933. Illicit ‘speakeasys’ became smokin venues of the jazz age!
If you are a fan of jazz this is a great band to follow, their love and knowledge of jazz is clearly apparent, and the music is high quality, authentic and evocative of days gone past.. They have a good musical rapport and I look forward to hearing more from the Dime Notes!
EDINBURGH SOUTHSIDE ADVERTISER 02.06.2017
The Dime Notes at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh 01.06.2017 by Tom King
The Dime Notes started their UK tour at The Brunton in Musselburgh tonight to a well attended and appreciative audience. Who and what though are “The Dime Notes”…well the answer to the first question is David Horniblow (clarinet), Andrew Oliver (piano), Dave Kelbie (rhythm guitar) and Tom Wheatley (acoustic bass). The answer to the second question is a jazz band that takes us back to the early formative years of 20th century American Jazz…back to musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke. With The Dime Notes we go right back to those first early recordings of jazz (100 years ago now), and forwards for those formative 20 years or so to names maybe more recognisable to modern audiences – names including Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet. I have to admit that these early jazz years are ones I know far less than I should about, but that is not a problem here as Andrew Oliver (piano) shares his wealth of knowledge on the subject in a friendly and informative manner as he introduces the music and never strays into the mode of a lecturer.
As a band of musicians, the individual members have a wealth of experience. Andrew Oliver originally hails from the USA and is an outstanding jazz pianist, and David Horniblow is one of the most in demand clarinettists on the jazz circuit and has played with so many household names over the years (Chris Barber to name just one). Playing with The Dime Notes gives David the opportunity to explore the music of some of his favourite clarinettists from this period of music. Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar is the Scottish member of the band, and those early years of Spanish rhythms and European Gypsy Jazz coming into the melting pot that became jazz are very close to David’s musical heart. Tom Wheatley is one of the best acoustic bass players that I have seen in a long time, and his natural style seems so at home here, but if he ever has a break in his busy performing schedule and you are looking for a great rockabilly player, this is your man too. Individually “The Dime Notes” are musicians that I would be happy to watch as solo performers any night of the week, but collectively their joint enthusiasm for the music they play together is infectious.
The Dime Notes are not a historical jazz ensemble recreating note for note earlier recordings. Their very musical line up (no trumpet or trombone for example) means that new arrangements have been made of classics, but these arrangements have stayed close to the originals and captured the spirit of that early jazz age. There are some real surprises here though. Early jazz was a formation of many different elements into a new picture, but as the years went on, that picture was again broken up into many different pieces (like a jigsaw puzzle), rearranged endlessly and completely new musical avenues explored. In the music of The Dime Notes you can clearly hear the beginnings of rockabilly and rock’n’roll music. One early song “The Dream” originally attributed to the little known about “Jack The Bear”, I for some reason can hear The Cure so easily doing a cover version of.
The Dime Notes also write new music in the style of earlier years, and it is so well done as to be seamless with the rest of the set. My first encounter with this band, and I like them a lot. They also have their first album out on CD and it is also available on retro vinyl (but not shellac 78 yet).
The Dime Notes by the way take their names from the name given to a 10 dollar bill (often payment to a musician) in The Cab Calloway Hepster Dictionary from 1939.
JAZZ SOCIETY OF OREGON JAZZSCENE – 01.03.2017
The Dime Notes
Though it has been a few years since Andrew Oliver relocated from Portland to London, the local scene owes more than it knows to the Oregon-bred pianist. In addition to founding the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Oliver led a multitude of projects that brought jazz in Portland to new venues and audiences. Since migrating across the pond, he is focused more tightly than before on early jazz, a passion he explored with Portland’s Bridgetown Sextet. On this release from London quartet e Dime Notes, Oliver mines the earliest days of the music’s existence in New Orleans, digging up tasteful tunes by masters like Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy and placing them in all-new but classic-sounding arrangements.
Oliver and company are hardly alone in their retroactive approach. The Dime Notes follow a long lineage of white (often British) jazz musicians who look back into the past. Nonetheless, their laid-back swing and clever interplay makes their music feel fresh and vibrant.
David Horniblow (clarinet) takes the melody role here, playing the part of the legendary Sidney Bechet on three Bechet classics (“What A Dream” is a particularly enthralling moment, with some nice trading between Horniblow and Oliver) as well as several Jelly Roll Morton compositions. Oliver adds one of his own compositions to the book as well; it is a twisting melody called “Otis Stomp,” inspired by the town of Otis, Oregon. Holding down the sizzling groove is the bass-guitar team of Tom Wheatley and Dave Kelbie, who handle their traditional roles with grace. Indeed, it is the easy-going interplay between slapped bass and chugging rhythm guitar that make the Dime Notes’ music feel far more alive than the museum piece it could have become.
JAZZ JOURNAL 01.06.2017
The Dime Notes
This recently formed London- based quartet specialises in recreating the authentic sound of vintage jazz and small-group swing from the 20s and 30s. Employing the necessary musical skill and understanding of the idiom, the group effectively captures the supple rhythmic variations, collective dynamics and relaxed swing of the best classic recordings. Jelly Roll Morton is a dominant influence, both in the spirited and accomplished playing of Oregon-born pianist/leader Andrew Oliver, and in the overall compositional concept applied to the arrangements, with contrast and nuanced development through- out the whole track, rather than simpler jam session repetition.
The general style doesn’t venture into experimental hybrid or innovative approaches, but aims at enriching and developing from the vintage formative roots, and at exploring less familiar material from the era. Ex-Barber clarinettist David Hornblower’s playing is nimble, incisive and assured, with hints of Fazola and Noone. His rapport with Oliver is evident and their inventive breaks and exchanges, notably in The Pearls, The Crave and The Camel Walk are impressive. Tom Wheatley and Dave Kelbie (the record producer) provide an attentive and supple platform for the animated interplay of clarinet and piano. Kelbie contributed significantly to the excellent Django À La Creole recordings led by Evan Christopher (who wrote the sleeve notes for this release). His guitar could surely have been used to advantage here, but is confined entirely to quiet integrated backing and support. This is a fine album from a very promising group, and attractively packaged – as CD or vinyl.
JAZZ DA GAMA 03.02.2017
The Dime Notes
Somewhere in the excellent liner notes to The Dime Notes of London’s debut album: The Dime Notes, the marvelous New Orleans clarinetist, Evan Christopher makes an important observation about the guitarist and likely prime-mover of this this new English band: Dave Kelbie. About The Dime Notes and their music, Christopher says, “builds a more inclusive community, based not upon nostalgia, or cliché notions of authenticity, but around the experiences the music can provide.” Evan Christopher has more than an intimate working knowledge of Kelbie – a sort of modern-day Alan Lomax when it comes to European Roma music – and the British slice of the European scene. And though he refers to musicians there as being part of UK ‘Trad’ bands (I, for one, prefer the slightly longer ‘UK bands playing in The Tradition’) Christopher’s excellent liner notes also mention with disdain such words such as ‘revivalists’ and ‘traditionalists’, preferring to glorify how pianist Andrew Oliver, clarinetist David Horniblow, bassist Tom Wheatley and guitarist Kelbie by exploring their leanings without justifying or defending their breadth of influences.
But enough of Evan Christopher for the moment; the Dime Notes disc you hold in – or will soon hold in – your hand is one that holds thirteen examples of the great music from the ancestral repertoire of jazz – the ‘maternal’ line of the music if you like. Each has been lovingly curated in a performance that leaves the listener speechless. And as if that were not enough, The Notes’ leader Andrew Oliver has refreshes our collective memory halfway through the record with his original, ‘Otis Stomp’, a tune which is as lively and evanescent as it is impossibly dazzling, before leading us into the second half of the record like a crowd of shameless excited jitterbugging dancers drawn to the legacy of Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson and – perhaps the music’s first and greatest Ambassador to Europe – Sidney Bechet. Underscoring the need to create a modern repertoire of this music, is the fact that England and Europe seem to hold up a mirror to American Jazz musicians sometimes with a far steadier hand than the young (white) American Jazz musician, who sometimes remains obstinately ignorant of The Tradition. Just listen to Tom Wheatley’s bass solo nudged on by the agonizingly slow, yet exquisite time-keeping of Dave Kelbie’s vamp before Oliver and Horniblow bring “Si Tu Vois Ma Mère” home to roost and you will hear an object lesson in the New Orleans blues of Sidney Bechet.
Want more? There is plenty to be had on this gleeful debut album of The Dime Notes. “The Camel Walk” is breathtaking with its pregnant pauses in the melody played by clarinetist and pianist during which one can almost imagine taking a swig of whiskey while one’s partner is held with one arm outstretched (the other downing the said glass of inebriating brew. Then in “I Believe In Miracles” there are ephemeral ‘breaks’ for piano, bass and clarinet, when Dave Kelbie rocks the tempo reminiscent of a lonely banjo. Kelbie’s star turn comes again during W.C. Handy’s “Ole Miss”, where his masterful sense of time sets Handy’s piece on fire by shape shifting into a snare drum and a bass drum, with a pointed thunder-splash that sounds as if he were indulging in a resounding slap of an invisible cymbal. Kelbie is not the only force of nature on this recording, although he has probably been largely responsible for serving up this delectable record. It’s impossible not to be fall prey to the charms of David Horniblow’s clarinet, Dave Kelbie’s kinetic rhythm guitar, Tom Wheatley’s growling bass, or to feel the almighty wallop of Andrew Oliver’s incredible pianism.
RAUL DA GAMA
JUST JAZZ UK 01.02.2017
The Dime Notes
These four young(ish) guys have listened and absorbed the jazz music of the 1920s and beyond – half of the tracks on this CD being composed by ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton or Sidney Bechet, which gives you a good idea of what to expect. Original Jelly Roll Blues is a great opener, featuring the habanera rhythm – a trait often found in Morton’s compositions. Nice arrangement by The Dime Notes, ending the tune with a stomping out-chorus. The Pearls – another Morton tune – has dynamic piano from Andrew Oliver. These guys certainly know how to ‘Jelly Roll’!
Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues has bass player Tom Wheatley in the spotlight, displaying a virtuosity and knowledge of the idiom (passed on no doubt by his father, the ultra-talented Martin). Guitarist Dave Kelbie is an integral part of the group, giving solid support throughout the CD.
Andrew Oliver’s own composition, Otis Stomp, highlights some dazzling piano from the composer, as well as some exciting interplay between piano and clarinet. Sidney Bechet’s Si Tu Vois Ma Mere is the longest track – over six minutes – and it’s a fine tribute by David Horniblow to the soprano saxophone genius. We also hear shades of Barney Bigard and Edmond Hall, and again, some excellent piano. I Believe in Miracles was recorded by ‘Fats’ Waller and His Rhythm in 1935 with ‘Fats’ at the organ. Jazz bands and swing groups have given the tune a new lease of life during the last couple of decades, and it’s probably more popular than it’s ever been.
The Camel Walk is an unusual choice for this line-up. Recorded by such diverse bands as Red Nichols’ Hottentots and the Jack Hylton Band, The Dime Notes make it sound like it was written for them! Ole Miss is taken at a breakneck tempo and full marks to the quartet for holding it together (please note – this is a drummer-less outfit).
The group finish with another of Bechet’s great compositions What A Dream, the title of which perfectly sums up this CD. Full marks to four top-notch musicians for bringing a new dimension to the compositions of Morton, Bechet, Waller, et al. It swings from start to finish.
MONIQUE MUSIQUE 01.02.2017
The Dime Notes Tackle Old Tunes
The Dime Notes are a trad-jazz quartet that more or less grew out of the Chris Barber band (amazing that his career lasted so long!). This was my first chance to hear them.
Two things I really appreciated: 1) they use a guitar instead of a banjo, and 2) they use a string bass instead of a tuba. This helps a lot to reduce the feeling that you’re listening to music so old that the whiskers have whiskers on them. But there is a third factor that really won me over, and that is that they somehow manage to truly capture the feeling and rhythm of the old bands. They are looser and therefore better than the Barber band in this respect.
Pianist Andrew Oliver, the lone American in the group, is particularly fine in this respect. Like Jelly Roll Morton, he improvises on the melody and not on the chords, which is the old style personified, and like Morton, he plays original improvisations that do not just copy the originals. I also liked British clarinetist David Horniblow, whose tone is rich and full like those of Omer Simeon and Barney Bigard (I wonder if he’s playing an Albert system instrument?) and doesn’t try to sound too much like Benny Goodman, although in Alabamy Bound he does introduce some leanness and bite to his tone that are somewhat reminiscent of the King of Swing (but also of Johnny Dodds, another old-timer and one of Goodman’s idols). The bottom line is that they don’t sound like typical “moldy figs.” In the latter title, we hear bassist Louis Thomas playing tremendously good slap bass in the tradition of Pops Foster or Steve Brown, the two most exceptional of the early New Orleans bassists (the first black, the second white). In Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues, they get a nice, loping beat going, completely relaxed and in the true two-beat tradition.
Another thing they have going for them is that, in many places, the rhythm section plays as a unit. This is not authentic style; listen to the Morton Red Hot Pepper or Armstrong Hot Seven recordings, and you’ll hear a lot more disconnect between the piano, banjo and bass (plus drums, not present here) than the Dime Notes achieve. In Aunt Hagar’s, bassist Thomas also plays a distinctly more modern bass solo, combining bowed and pizzicato lines in a very intriguing manner.
Horniblow brings his own sound and style to Black Stick Blues, virtuosic in its Goodman-like turns and trills but not really trying to sound like Sidney Bechet (very little high-register theatrics and no “French vibrato” in his tone). In the middle section of the first chorus, and a bit later, the rhythm section, again playing as a unit, abandon the old two-beat style for a four-to-the-bar swing rhythm, which I liked very much. The Pearls brings us back to Morton and the old New Orleans two-beat, again played smoothly and without affectation. Oliver’s playing is not quite as forceful or dramatic as Morton’s own, but he makes some interesting statements and is very satisfying. Horniblow revels in his chalumeau register on this one.
Boyd Senter’s Tain’t Clean is one of the few tunes on this album I’d never heard before (the other two were Otis Stomp, written by pianist Oliver, and I Believe in Miracles), and it is a surprisingly lyrical piece taken at a medium tempo. Otis Stomp could easily pass for an old tune in form and beat, albeit a fairly simple one, comprised mostly of little riffs, and again moving into a bit of a swing beat in the middle strain. The rhythm keeps up the swing beat for Oliver’s solo, which again is modeled on the melody and not just the chords, Bob Zurke-style. Bechet’s Si Tu Vois Ma Mere is taken at a very slow ballad tempo that suits its lovely melodic line perfectly. Both Oliver and Thomas take nice, sparse solos. They also play Brymm’s Camel Walk in a nice, peppy style that lacks the stiffness of most trad bands.
Morton’s The Crave is his one Spanish-tinged tune that is not often played nowadays, but to be honest I’ve always liked it better than New Orleans Joys, and the Dime Notes give it the royal treatment, slightly dragging its insinuous melody with deft skill. Horniblow’s solo on this one is particularly excellent, using double-time and some surprising rhythmic shifts and stops. At the end, he shifts into B.G. mode with good effect.
I Believe in Miracles is a nice tune, played here with almost a shuffle beat à la the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. W.C. Handy’s Ole Miss is played in an almost strict ragtime beat, though allowing for improvised solos, something ragtime never did. Oliver’s solo sounds as much like Morton as anything else he plays on this album…Jelly would really be proud of him! Turtle Twist was a perfect choice for this band, considering that Morton’s original recording was also a small-group performance (featuring Bigard on clarinet, if I recall). The Dime Notes take it a bit slower than Morton did, and give the beat a snakier feel. Oliver does his best Morton imitation on this one, although he does not copy any of the master’s licks, but plays his own improvisation.
In the finale, Bechet’s What a Dream, all pretensions to two-beat Dixieland are gone. This is a straightahead swing performance, sounding almost like something Artie Shaw might have played. The quartet does a great job on it, too, driving the music home with style and élan.
No question about it, the Dime Notes are an absolutely terrific trad jazz quartet. A splendid CD.
LYNN RENE BAYLEY
NORTHERN ECHO 24.11.2016
The Dime Notes
This is a splendid first outing for the Dime Notes, a four piece band led by American pianist and Jelly Roll Morton devotee Andrew Oliver. He’s accompanied by former Chris Barber clarinettist David Horniblow and the sublime backing of rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie and bass player Tom Wheatley. A lovely programme includes Morton, Sidney Bechet and W.C. Handy, the whole thing enhanced by a warm clear recording and Evan Christopher’s thoughtful and eloquent notes.
THE VITALITY FIVE
Michael Steinman, Jazzlives, September 2018:
I’ve had an alarm clock / clock radio at the side of my bed for decades now, and its message is unvarying and irritating. Time to go to school! Time to go to work! Time to move the car to avoid a ticket!
But playing the new CD by The Vitality Five, its title noted above, I thought if I could rig up a musical machine that would, at first softly, play one of their glorious lively evocations of a vanished time, I would be much more willing to get out of bed and face the world.
The Vitality 5 is inherently not the same as many other bands performing Twenties hot repertoire. For one thing, the 5’s reach is informed and deep: of the seventeen songs on this disc, perhaps four will be well-known to people who “like older jazz.” Be assured that even the most “obscure” tunes are melodic and memorable. More important to me is the 5’s perhaps unstated philosophy in action. Many bands so worship the originals that they strive to create reverent copies of the original discs, and in performance this can be stunning. But the 5 realizes something in their performances and arrangements that, to me, is immensely valuable: the people who made the original records were animated by joyous exuberance.
The players we venerate were “making it up as they went along,” as if their lives depended on it. Theirs did, and perhaps ours do as well.
So these performances are splendidly animated by vivacious personality: they leap off the disc. I don’t mean that the 5 is louder or faster, but they are energized. You can’t help but hear and feel it.
Facts. The band has been together since 2015, and it is that rare and wonderful entity — a working band. Two of its members should be intimate pals to JAZZ LIVES readers: David Horniblow, reeds, and Andrew Oliver, piano — they are the one and only Complete Morton Project. The other three members who complete the arithmetic are special heroes of mine, people I’ve admired at the Whitley Bay / Mike Durham jazz parties: Michael McQuaid, reeds and cornet; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.
And they are superb players — not only star soloists, but wonderful in ensemble, making the 5 seem much more a flexible orchestra than the single digit would suggest. They are, as Louis would say, Top Men On Their Instruments. Each performance has its own rhythmic surge, the arrangements are varied without being “clever,” and the band is wise enough to choose material that has a deep melodic center — memorable lines that range in performance from sweetly lyrical to incendiary. The back cover proclaims that there are “17 CERTAIN DANCE HITS!” and it’s true.
A final word about repertoire — a subject whose narrowing I find upsetting, as some “Twenties” groups play and replay the same dozen songs: this disc offers songs I’d either never heard before (JI-JI BOO) or not in decades (THE SPHINX) as well as classics that aren’t simply transcriptions from the OKeh (FIREWORKS, EVERY EVENING, COPENHAGEN) — across the spectrum from Nichols-Mole to Clarence Williams to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and more.
I know it’s heresy to some, but the Vitality 5 performs at a level that is not only equal to the great recordings, but superior to them. A substantial claim, but the disc supports it.
Visit here to hear their hot rendition of COPENHAGEN — also, here you can buy an actual disc or download their music. Convinced? I hope so.
And to the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: if you perfect the Vitality Five Rise-and-Shine machine, suitable for all electric currents, do let me know. I’ll be your first purchaser. Failing that, please prosper, have many gigs, and make many CDs!
THE KORA BAND
Jazz Journal (UK), February 2016
This glorious album celebrates the meeting of contemporary jazz with West African Mandinka music and is an absolute joy right the way through. Pianist and composer Andrew Oliver was commissioned to write this suite as part of the 2012 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Programme, and after live performance the band took the material into the wonderfully named Kung Fu Bakery studios in Portland to record the album version.
Each song in the suite borrows from a traditional piece of Mandinka music, takes it apart and then recycles it in a new composition. Influences include songs from the cultures of Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Gambia. The result is an infectous, feel-good listening experience, very much like Afro Celt Sound System meets Hugh Masakela. Andrew Oliver drives the music with his discreet, understated performance, but it is Mathis on kora and McCullough’s wonderful work on trumpet and flugelhorn that really gives New cities its energy, voice, and unique appeal. The kora, almost sounding like a blend of harp and harpsichord, is tonally just right for this highly energetic and fun-loving musical project, and Mathis – one of America’s leading kora players, puts in a superb, consistent performance throughout.
The suite needs to be heard and enjoyed as one continuous listening experience, which makes it inappropriate to single out one track over another for comment as part of an album review. Fifty minutes in the company of the Kora Band flies pas, giving New Cities an irresistable, foot-tapping appeal that lasts from start to finish. Mighty enjoyable.
– John Adcock
Jazzwise (UK), January 2016
The pianist Andrew Oliver and Kora player Kane Mathis discover new musical perspectives between the jazz, blues, and classical of their backgrounds and that of west African Mandinka folk music.
Evening Standard (London), October 2015
An inspired third release for The Kora Band, a transatlantic quintet exploring the links between contemporary jazz and traditional West African music. The bluesy cascades of the 21-string kora-harp, intricately deployed by Brooklyn-based Kane Mathis, are woven throughout eight songs in a suite composed by pianist and bandleader Andrew Oliver.
Phrases from West African tunes are reworked in ways innovative and melodic – the lively Biere La Gazelle comes with Latin-style trumpet and edgy uptempo piano. Percussive flourishes underline the traditional vibe, but the elegant interplay between drums, bass, horns and piano make this very much a jazz outing, with a kora.
– Jane Cornwall
Songlines, March 2016
Jazzy West African adaptations
New Cities is the third album from a collective exploring the possibilities that emerge from adapting source material from the West African Mande music tradition into a jazz idiom. This outing includes tracks inspired by many diverse themes and topics that vary from a popular brand of Senegalese beer to the consequences of urbanisation. The playing is exemplary and particularly exciting on tracks such as “Teriyaa,” developed from a popular Gambian song, and “5 ans d’effort”, on which bandleader and pianist Andrew Oliver demonstrates great melodic development. However, owing to the piano’s prominence throughout, this album primarily comes across as a straight, albeit solid, jazz release, with the kora cutting a markedly peripheral figure.
Aside from “Teriyaa”, which really is the most accomplished piece on the album, and the title-track, the kora functions more as a sporadic solo instrument. “Slip Coach (for Chet)”, for example, is a great piece, featuring some lovely work from Lee Elderton on the clarinet, but the kora’s flourishes are emblematic of a strong conceptual framework that unfortunately never quite reaches the expected level of musical integration. – Alex de Cacey
Bebop Spoken Here, Newcastle UK, October 2015
Andrew Oliver’s Kora Band recorded material for the forthcoming New Cities CD release back in October 2013. The pianist’s project has taken some time to see the light of day. In securing a deal with fellow London-based American Michael Janisch’s record label it can at last be heard. Recorded in Portland, Oregon and New York, Oliver’s band explores the connections between jazz and the music of West Africa.
A 2008 US State Department sponsored tour of West Africa encouraged Oliver to form a band with the kora – a twenty one string African harp – at its heart. Kane Mathis – one of America’s foremost kora players – accepted Oliver’s invitation to join the band and three albums later New Cities is representative of current and ongoing developments. An eight track CD, with a running time of fifty three minutes, stately elegance permeates the entire work.
Old song melodies and African harmonic patterns proliferate; The Contract andTeriyaa – the latter featuring the album’s sole vocal contribution from Kane Mathis – exemplify the lyrical, uplifting nature of the music. All of the music was composed by Oliver and he is, no doubt, delighted by the commitment shown by the members of his band. Lee Elderton, clarinet, is heard on two tracks only, but his part in the project is well worthwhile. Check out his playing on Slip Coach (for Chet). The title track New Cities highlights the group dynamic with all of the musicians making an excellent contribution; elegant, stately, from Brady Millard-Kish’s bass intro to Mark DiFlorio’s consistently good drumming to Chad McCullough’s trumpet flourish taking it out.
New Cities is an accomplished work.
All About Jazz, October 2015
Pianist Andrew Oliver formed The Kora Band in 2008 following a tour in West Africa and a chance meeting with a kora player, leading him to track down Kane Mathis, whom he recruited and whose presence naturally gave birth to the group’s name and its idiosyncratic sound. Mathis is one of the foremost kora players in America and brings to the band a completely different dimension. The kora is a kind of traditional harp, originally played by musicians of the Mandinka ethnic group of West Africa, and the effect of the sound it produces, can edge towards the mesmeric.
Kicking off this set “The Contract” might give the listener the idea that this is “world music,” which in a sense it is since Mathis’ expertise on the kora evokes a variety of moods often sounding at times, and to the untutored listener, like a rapidly oscillating cross between Mexican mariachi and Greek rebetiko. Combined with its African roots, this kora-led music effortlessly crosses continents with dizzying alacrity.
Chad McCullough’s trumpet hook on “Bière La Gazelle” sounds tantalisingly close to the first bar of Bach’s “Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” this lively number soon evolving into a latin-esque outing. The twin horns configuration (trumpet and clarinet) and tricky timing on “5 Ans D’Effort” give this track a more distinctly jazzy feel, all underpinned by Oliver’s exploratory, rapid-fire piano work.
A fleeting burst of kora leads into the slow-paced “Teriyaa” where Mathis sings his own plaintively impassioned West African lyrics on the only vocal track on the album. When Mathis is at full pelt on the kora, the sound he produces is uncannily similar to the electric harpsichord flourishes on Terry Riley’s masterpiece A Rainbow In Curved Air. Chad McCullough overshadows all on “Specialists in Some Styles” with Mark DiFlorio plays calabash here rather than drum kit, thus offering-up some very apposite percussive subtlety.
“Slip Coach (for Chet)” again features Lee Elderton with a lithe clarinet solo. The title track is the longest at just over ten minutes with Chad McCullough leading the serpentine melody and Andrew Oliver introducing some brilliant piano skirmishes. The ballad, “Old Countries” concludes this intriguing set.
It would be tempting to introduce all sorts of comparisons to others playing either West African music or jazz, but in truth The Kora Band doesn’t really sound like any other group. This is an amazing feat, in a century supersaturated with music of every hue, and a convincing testament to the innovative sound of a jazz band successfully incorporating non-Western traditional instruments.
by Philip Booth
“World jazz” is the label that often gets slapped on any project that dares mix post-bop music with grooves and instrumentation not native to North America. And those projects frequently come off as gimmicky. Not so with the Kora Band, a group of Portland and Seattle musicians who successfully incorporate West African rhythms and textures into their otherwise mainstream jazz sound. The quintet, led by keyboardist Andrew Oliver, has as its X factor the kora, a 21-string instrument that, as played by Kane Mathis, sometimes shimmers, sometimes flickers. At nearly all times, it’s integrated handily into the group’s unusual sound, as opposed to merely serving as an exotic flavor. Whether carrying the band through streams of African or Caribbean music, or jazz homegrown in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the United States, Cascades proceeds in a manner that’s unhurried and consistently inviting, in refreshing contrast to other genre-straddling projects of its general type.
All Music Guide
by Adam Greenburg
Headed up unobtrusively by pianist Andrew Oliver, the Kora Band is an experiment in compositional fusion. Cascades treads a careful line here, being cerebral enough to form complex interplay between the traditional kora sounds and modern piano sounds, but more importantly, being able to fuse the musics into something that is at once modern, thoughtful jazz and innovations upon traditional music. It almost stretches toward clichés of worldbeat and world jazz, but doesn’t sully itself with the simplicities afforded by taking on new sound elements. Instead, it only plays with the differences, making a unified whole that is both new and respectable, from the standpoint of both incorporated genres.
Jazz Society of Oregon JazzScene Magazine
by Kyle O’Brien
Portland pianist Andrew Oliver takes on the music of west Africa with this ambitious project. The band fuses western styles and influences with the music of The Gambia, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. There are repeated phrases that build the energy, much like in African folk musics, but then there is the western influence and a compositional structure that takes it to North America.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
In a recent appearance on KEXP’s Best Ambiance, Mathis’ and Oliver’s duets blended together so seamlessly, it sounded as if one giant 109 stringed harp was being played by a four armed musician; not being able to see who was doing what almost made it more interesting.
Friday, May 1, 2009
“Andrew Oliver Kora Band: A fresh, old sound breaks new ground”
By Jonathan Zwickel
Modest but mesmerizing, it’s as novel and agreeable a sound as you’ve never heard.
Friday April 24, 2009
“Kora To The Core”
by Tom D’Antoni
In the tradition of Cherry, Oliver, who either wrote or arranged most of the tunes, blends the swing and intellect of American jazz with the divine poetry of West African music.
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
” But the Andrew Oliver Kora band meshes what the two musics love most—from upbeat, spiraling guitar plucks to that shuffling dance backbeat—to make a gorgeous, moving record with with Just 4 U. […] Pianist Oliver delivers some beautiful playing that never oversteps into showiness, while spotlighted Kora player Kane Mathis is an absolute whiz. CASEY JARMAN.
Bird Is The Worm
December 6, 2016
“journeys, places, stories” review by Dave Sumner
The newest from the Tunnel Six ensemble falls pretty well in line with what’s come before. The dramatic builds of intensity, the soaring melodicism, the amiable charm of folk music and how it shakes hands firmly with a modern jazz built on a foundation of imagery and mood more than it is blues and swing. Their debut Lake Superior came out swinging with the dramatic surges and thick melodies, and it really didn’t hold back on the moodiness either, and their follow-up Alive kept to the same formula. It was simply more of the good stuff. Now, with their third recording, the same elements are present, but the expressions are delivered with a greater confidence, and no less importantly, with a wide-open lyricism that trades in the focused intensity for a substantive story arc. Either through compositions that are scripted to open things up or (perhaps “and”) the confidence of the musicians to improvise on the seeds of the ideas and bring something unexpected to bloom. Whatever the reason and whatever the intent, there’s a fullness to this music that wasn’t there before. The sound is much the same, but the ability to express it is dramatically changed.
All About Jazz
May 11, 2013
“Alive review by Dan McClenaghan
The formation of the American/Canadian sextet Tunnel Six wasn’t planned. The six musicians met up at the 2009 International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, and discovered rare group chemistry after having played together there. Since then the group has performed across Canada and the U.S., and cut two CDs, Lake Superior (OA2 Records, 2010) and now Alive, recorded at their live shows in Vancouver, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.
The line-up—sax and trumpet, guitar and piano, bass and drums—is a chamber-like collective with more energy than groups that are usually tagged that way. An equilibrium of input, both in tune-smithing and playing is the mode of operation; but it’s tempting to call trumpeter Chad McCullough a leader of sorts. He penned three of the nine tunes, and dishes up some fine solo spots; and he did the cover photo and layout too.
Saxophonist Ben Dietschi does a tight, sizzling solo on his “Tides of Certainty,” in front of some sharp metallic comping by guitarist Brian Seligman. McCullough’s “Pinwheel” features some lyrical horn work, fine and intricate interplay between the guitar and Andrew Oliver’s piano, and includes a hypnotic interlude where Oliver lays down a steady groove for bassist Ron J. Hynes and drummer Tyson Stubelek to churn and rumble over.
Alive is a cohesive statement, from start to finish, full of expansive, slightly blurred—from the melding of guitar and piano—soundscapes, hot horns and seamless instrumental interaction.
Jazz Society of Oregon Jazzscene Magazine
“Alive” review by Tim Willcox
This is the newest offering from the sextet of young, cutting edge musicians from various places in the U.S. and Canada. Two Northwest jazz stalwarts, Andrew Oliver of Portland and Chad McCullough of Seattle, are responsible for making the group a fixture in this region. Former Portlander Stubelek plays drums in the group, although he relocated to NYC several years ago. Formed in 2009 at the Banff International Jazz Workshop, Tunnel Six also released a very nice recording in 2011 titled “Lake Superior.” This one was recorded live during the group’s 2012 tour. One of their greatest attributes is the ability to make a sextet sound like a miniature orchestra. Five of the six members contributed beautiful and unique originals, all of which take advantage of the group’s openness to various styles as well as their attention to the tiniest of details. Dynamics and imaginative mixing of timbre and rhythmic textures play a major role in making this recording diverse and fun for repeated listening. McCullough contributes some of the prettiest originals to the recording. He writes in a fashion which evokes beauty and a certain solemness while managing not to sound sentimental. “The Admiral’s Lament,” for instance, showcases this. Oliver is one of the most prolific composers in our region, having founded the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble as well as the new PJCE Records label. Here he contributes two numbers, a beautiful waltz titled “Columbia,” and the pointillistic, Latin jazztinged “No Mongoose.” Guitarist Seligman, who has been strongly influenced by Bill Frisell in both playing and writing, gives us the album’s imaginative opener, “The Wagon and the Gun.” The track showcases Dietschi and McCullough’s musical camaraderie on an open vamp featuring both men improvising simultaneously. Seligman’s other contribution, “ Heavy Weight,” fuses jazz with rock and is reminiscent of the music of drummer Jim Black’s group, AlasNoAxis. Seligman has written some of the more genre bending music on “Alive.” Hynes and Dietschi both contribute one track apiece, both more straightahead affairs with nods to the modernist and minimalist classical music. There also seems to be touches of Steve Reich’s signature “looping counterpoint” throughout the album.
I know I’ve focused on the writing side of things, but let’s not forget that all of these guys are great instrumentalists too. Each player has their own sound, a feat in this day and age when there are literally thousands of clones out there. McCullough has one of the most honest approaches to trumpet in modern jazz. A dark and warm tone coupled with fresh, spontaneous ideas makes him a real joy to listen to. None of the musicians rely on things that merely “fit under their fingers,” and I get a sense that they’ve all taken paths around the typical modern influences which produce so many imitators. Saxophonist Dietschi reminds me a bit of both Dewey Redman and the lesser known British saxophonist Stan Sulzmann. It’s refreshing to hear a young saxophonist who isn’t imitating Chris Potter, Mark Turner, or Seamus Blake. Drummer Stubulek is a real point of interest, playing with a delicate touch when needed but able to breathe fire into the music when called upon to “rrrrROCK!” He is one of my favorite young drummers, with the musical approach, openness and dynamic range of Paul Motion and Joey Baron, but with a technique and touch along the lines of Brian Blade. Stubelek’s childhood friend, Oliver, is a unique pianist, devoid of cliches as well. He never seems to play “licks” or the conventional jazz lines that we’ve all heard a million times. All of the playing here is a breath of fresh air. I must admit that I haven’t seen this group live yet, but after hearing the album, I’ll be making a point of hearing them on their next jaunt through town. You should as well.
Bird Is The Worm
April 29, 2012
“Alive” review by Dave Sumner
Even with the modern jazz trend of wandering great distances away from a song’s opening recitation of melody, it’s still quite typical for the musicians to return to the home base before the last note of the song has sounded. But for the Tunnel Six outfit, they take it a step further. Proficient in their use of dramatic introductory statements, they store that melody away, and rather than doubling back to it after the long journey of a song, instead, they simply remove it from their pack, and, intermittently, show it to the listener, as one would a photograph. They don’t so much return to home as simply display a picture of it during their course of their travels. It’s a big reason why so many of their tunes possess an epic quality, a sense of long distances traveled, far far away, even as they behave as songs that exist very much in the moment.
On their sophomore release Alive, the Tunnel Six sextet picks up right where they left off on their debut, the excellent 2011 release Lake Superior. Recorded at a series of live dates, Alive stamps in place the group’s development from the time they first met at the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Banff, through their collaboration on their debut album, and now, as they set out for more.
Your album personnel: Chad McCullough (trumpet), Andrew Oliver(piano), Ben Dietschi (saxes), Tyson Stubelek (drums), Ron Hynes(bass), and Brian Seligman (guitar).
As also characterized on their debut album, Alive displays a level of group interplay belied by the relative short time this ensemble has been performing together. The seamless transitions between solos, the multi-tasking partnerships with rhythm, and the Rube Goldberg melodic directions at unexpected moments… they all point to a synchronicity that only becomes evident when one steps back from the music and attempts to separate the act of performance from the performance itself.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t individual highlights, too. For instance…
“The Wagon and the Gun” starts up with an already classic Tunnel Six approach of opening an album with a promise of Epic Journey. The sextet works together to build the lullaby introduction up to a hurricane intensity, yet it’s when the soprano sax of Dietschi dips back into the wind tunnel to lay down delicate lines that keeps the song tethered to its brilliant opening moments. And then there’s “Up Hill,” in which Dietschi’s sax sharpens the blade of an edgy song.
“Heavy Weight” is characterized by its dramatic builds interspersed with punctuating solos. However, it’s bassist Hynes who shines here, by not just inconspicuously establishing tempo, but also acting as the melody’s disconnected shadow, providing some needed darkness to bright notes from guitar.
“Tides of Certainty” burns with a post-bop center of gravity orbited by McCullough’s soaring trumpet.
“Pinwheel” has a throwback sound, featuring Oliver and Stubelek on piano and drums and a nostalgic echo of the firecracker rhythms and cool blue stride of the “Take Five” days of Brubeck.
“Cowboy Song” delivers Seligman’s countryside charm on guitar and an implied twang, reminiscent of the Americana Jazz of Bill Frisell, but with Frisell’s rustic ear-to-the-ground pragmatism updated for a dreamy sensation of travel by sea.
Album finale “The Admiral’s Lament” offers a sense of finality. A sister song of album-opener “The Wagon and the Gun,” but where the latter expounds on the possibilities ahead, the former draws the curtain down, and begins the time for looking back on all that has come before. Like with any ending, it’s a little bittersweet, a little melancholic, and in possession of a warm, sincere smile.
A remarkable sophomore release, and already has me looking forward to what comes next.
Willamette Week (Portland, OR)
June 21, 2012
Andrew Oliver with Tunnel Six, Blue Cranes
by Brett Campbell
[NORTH AMERICAN JAZZ] Startled by the chemistry they achieved after meeting and playing at the celebrated Banff International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music a few years ago, the rising young stars of Tunnel Six (Portland pianist Andrew Oliver, Toronto saxophonist Ben Dietschi, Seattle trumpeter Chad McCullough, Toronto guitarist Brian Seligman, Halifax bassist Ron J, and former Oregon—now New York—drummer Tyson Stubelek) resolved to reconvene for annual tours between their regular gigs. The group’s summer 2010 performance at Portland’s Old Church, one of that year’s happiest jazz surprises, revealed a straight-ahead contemporary jazz aesthetic with remarkable interplay and solid chemistry. The musicians have only grown in experience—all lead their own groups. Openers Blue Cranes, Portland’s coolest jazz band, are always worth hearing.
Penticton Western News
June 14, 2012
Tunnel Six, a modern jazz band with members from throughout North America, will tour again for the third consecutive year.
This 11-city tour is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts and will land in Penticton at the Opus Café on June 16 at 7 p.m.
Comprised of several young modern jazz artists, each notable band leaders in their own right, Tunnel Six has grown from a collective group of friends at the Banff Centre into a deeply intertwined musical unit capable of connecting with a wide array of audiences on a deep and emotional level. Their performances have often moved listeners, and this year the group will capture the spirit of their live performances with a follow-up recording to their internationally-released first album, Lake Superior.
“Every time we get together, it’s an incredible experience and one I always look forward to,” guitarist Brian Seligman said. “Each year, with six guys this gifted, and moving in so many directions there never fails to be some deep musical moments that can only happen when everyone’s on the same page, with the same goals.”
Those moments are sure to be plentiful in the coming tour, with 11 concerts and a considerable time to workshop the new music. Not that they need it. Many of the new tunes were road-tested last summer at the Halifax and St. John’s Jazz Festivals. Those performances notched the group a TD Rising Star nomination, and a sold-out hall in Newfoundland.
The band’s first album Lake Superior (released last March on Seattle-based OA2 Records) was listed on eMusic’s top 100 releases of 2011, right above the new Britney Spears album. A fact that the band’s pianist Andrew Oliver is quick to point out. His pride is instantly understandable. One of his compositions (the title track) garnered him an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Award.
The upcoming tour, their ‘third season’ promises more of the same, and business as usual is just fine for Tunnel Six.
Banff Jazz: connecting and collaborating
June 8, 2012
by Alexa Hubley
I wanted to know more about the Jazz program at The Banff Centre — figure out what’s lurking at the core of it. What makes it…unique? For the past few weeks I’ve been attending jazz performances in The Club, the Eric Harvie Theatre, late night jams in the Maclab bistro, and what I’ve noticed is that the essence or spirit of Jazz at The Banff Centre is one of openness and collaboration, which might just be the spirit of jazz as an artform.
“Randomly, we all sat down at the same table for a meal, and that was pretty much the instrumentation for creating our band,” says Ben Dietschi, a member of Tunnel Six, a band that formed out of the 2009 Jazz program. “We all decided to book a recording session together, and after we played one tune, we knew. Everybody paused in silence for a few moments, looked around the room, and that’s when we knew we had a band.”
The musicians in Tunnel Six are from all over North America, and before they set out on tour, they use skype and facebook to keep in touch, collaborate on pieces, and give each other feedback, until they actually meet in person and play together. “The fact that we’re all in different places, and coming from different cultural surroundings just adds potency to the projects we create,” explains Dietschi. “When we do meet up, our different backgrounds just add colour to our set and our music.” Like Dietschi, two musicians in the current Jazz program — bassist Patrick Reid and saxophonist/violinist, Angela Morris — also benefit from spending a few weeks a year working alongside and collaborating with a colourful mix of jazz artists. ”I keep coming back because this place is sort of like a creative music fairy tale for me,” says Reid, who first came to the program in 2004 and has returned consistently since 2008.
“Not only am I surrounded by some of my biggest jazz heroes (like Dave Douglas), but I also get to find out what goes into other people’s music, what they think about when they’re making music, how they live, and how that influences their work.” The openness of the program enables Reid and fellow participants to explore one another’s style and work ethic in an extremely creative and encouraging environment. “The connections I’ve made here are so unique — the people are so amazing, so open-minded, and so driven” says Morris, who hails from Toronto, resides in New York, and co-leads a sextet called Common Wealth with former Jazz program participant and saxophonist, Jasmine Lovell-Smith. ”I met Jasmine in the program, we collaborated and hung out, and now we play together in New York on a regular basis — it’s awesome!”
July 18, 2011
Review of Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival, St. John’s, NL
“In terms of precision, the festival’s winners were Tunnel Six. The sextet played highly detailed songs with effortless grace. This might have been the best out-and-out jazz at the festival, and the audience was really into it. More bands like this would be a great way to go for this diverse, solidly attended festival in years to come.”
Top albums of 2011
by Dave Sumner
When the members of an ensemble sacrifice all selfish thought and throw their entire weight behind the compositions of others, it’s a transcendent moment, almost spiritual. There is a sense of a something greater than the sum of the individual parts when an ensemble serves the purposes of the soloist, while that soloist, simultaneously, plays his heart out in honor of the ensemble. Tunnel Six, six young jazzers who originate from across the U.S. and Canada and only came to meet at a music workshop in Banff, have created an album of these moments. Melodies that dare to be epic, jazz compositions that stretch out to the fringes of the genre, and a cohesion and selflessness that would indicate a collaborative period measured in years, not months, and Lake Superior is only the sextet’s debut album.
CD Review: Lake Superior
by David Franklin
For a group of players that individually live all over North America, Tunnel Six shows remarkably skillful ensemble interaction. This is the first recording by the band, whose members first played together at a Jazz Workshop at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, in 2009, although they have toured in both Canada and the United States. Their compositions, all by band members, are quite tuneful, but also sophisticated formally and metrically. Examples include pianist Andrew Oliver’s “Lake Superior,” which begins with his slow, hymn-like intro before the ensemble enters, setting up a passionate, two-fisted piano solo. After recapitulation of the ensemble entrance, tenorist Dietschi offers a dexterous Post-Bop improvisation over a swinging medium groove, the piece ending with another recap of the ensemble section. And all those shifts are smoothly executed. “Tunnel Mountain,” by Trumpeter McCullough, begins dramatically with a forceful repetitive figure underlying short back and forth choruses by soprano and trumpet, but also contains a lyrical piano solo over drums and an active bass line. Saxophonist Dietschi’s “In Between” features shifting metes and a distorted Rock guitar sound. The players excel in the ensemble parts and improvise at a high level in an up-to-date Mainstream Modern vein.
All Music Guide
CD Review: Lake Superior
by Ken Dryden
The six promising young musicians who comprise Tunnel Six met while attending the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. They quickly discovered a chemistry and worked to interpret the members’ compositions, touring parts of Canada and the U.S. for a few weeks prior to entering the studio to record their debut album. The interaction between them makes it sound like they have been playing together for far longer, while it is clear that each musician dove headfirst into bringing out the nuances of his fellow bandmates’ compositions, so there isn’t as much emphasis on dominating the solo spotlight as there typically is on CDs by young artists. Trumpeter/flügelhornist Chad McCullough penned the loping yet spirited “Tunnel Mountain,” which features lush ensembles, terrific exchanges by the composer on trumpet with soprano saxophonist Ben Dietschi, and an understated, elegant piano solo by Andrew Oliver. Guitarist Brian Seligman’s “Not Yet” simmers for the first few measures as the band builds the tension until the composer’s rockish solo. Dietschi contributed the mellow “Song for Masha,” showcasing his lyrical tenor sax. Bassist Ron Hynes and drummer Tyson Stubelek provide terrific support throughout this rewarding debut recording.
Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB)
May 5, 2011
Most of the time they’re spread all over the continent, but ever since the musicians of Tunnel Six met about two years ago, they have shared a special simpatico that continues to grow.
“We come from somewhat different backgrounds and from all over the country,” notes trumpeter Chad McCullough. “I think that’s one of the strong points of the band, but we also have a very similar musical esthetic. Even though we write very different tunes, they all seem to have the same vibe.”
He sums up their sound as strongly melodic contemporary jazz. The three Canadians and three Americans met as participants in the 2009 Banff Centre International Jazz Workshop. Trumpeter McCullough (based in Seattle) is joined by saxophonist Ben Dietschi (Toronto), guitarist Brian Seligman (Toronto), pianist Andrew Oliver (Portland), bassist Ron Hynes (Halifax), and drummer Tyson Stubelek (New York). All six contribute compositions.
Their name Tunnel Six refers to the Tunnel Mountain that rises behind the Banff Centre, and that’s not their only play on place names. When the group reunited last year for a cross-continent tour, they had one particularly satisfying, if chilly soak after being cooped up in a van for many hours. In memory of jumping into that lake, the album they recorded at the end of that tour is titled Lake Superior.
That all-original collection of tunes has just been released. “That tour really had a huge effect in helping us sort out our musical directions. We like to break down some of the traditional roles of instruments,” McCullough explains, “like using the guitar as another horn, or at other times, like a piano.”
Tunnel Six will perform tunes from the CD Lake Superior and newer works when they hit the stage at the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street at 86th Avenue) Saturday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $18 for members, $22 for guests, from Ticketmaster (780-451-8000) or at the door.
Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, AB)
May 28, 2010
“Tunnel Six road-testing new tunes on tour”
by Roger Levesque
A multinational jazz group with players from various corners of North America was founded last year as the musicians took part in an unforgettable, enriching experience at the Banff Centre jazz workshop.
The workshop has been facilitating this sort of thing for years, so it’s no surprise that another band has come out of it. They are worth a listen.
This time it’s Tunnel Six, named after the Tunnel Mountain location of the Banff Centre. Half Americans and half Canadians, they were bound up in an unexpectedly inspired meeting that has already spawned some fine, hard-to-classify demo tunes as their current tour brings them closer to recording a debut album. You can just call it tuneful contemporary jazz with a lot of space, considering there are six people involved.
Trumpeter Chad McCullough agrees there is nothing like road-testing your tunes before you head into the recording studio. Dates across the country are allowing them to do just that.
The horn man says the individual demands of six members, all in their mid-to late-20s, have already taught them a few things.
“I think we’ve developed a certain patience. Because it’s six people we know it can’t be a cacophony of noise. It has to be more focused, and everybody is. Everybody is so aware of their role and what everybody else is doing. There’s very little ego involved. It’s more about what the music can bring about and how we can make that happen.”
McCullough is from Seattle, while pianist Andrew Oliver and drummer Tyson Stubelek are both out of Portland, Ore. The Canadians include Manitoba-born saxophonist Ben Dietschi and guitarist Brian Seligman, both now in Toronto, and Newfoundland bassist Ron Hynes.
Tunnel Six makes its Edmonton debut tonight at 9 p.m. at the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street and 86th Avenue). Tickets are $18 for members of the Edmonton Jazz Society and $22 for guests, from Ticketmaster in advance or at the door.
Earshot Magazine (Seattle, WA)
Tunnel Six Preview
by Nathan Bluford
Tunnel Six’s formation was as intuitive as the music that resulted. While studying at the 2009 Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Alberta, Canada, the sextet met by chance, proposed a jam session on a whim, decided to create a group and before anyone could think twice had recorded a premier EP. The group’s upcoming rehearsals and subsequent tour of the United States and Canada will the first time that Chad McCullough (trumpet), Ben Dietschi (tenor and soprano saxophone), Brian Seligman (guitar), Andrew Oliver (piano), Ron Hynes (double bass), and Tyson Stubelek (drums) have all played together since finishing their first recording, but they have no reservations over whether their chemistry will do anything other than improve.
The six musicians hail from a range of cities in US and Canada, and despite their bond as a group are currently based out of cities scattered along the border between the two countries, hence their not having played together since the sessions for their EP. When their tour begins with its first date in Toronto, audience members will be witnessing the culmination of a year’s worth of Skype conferences, meticulous logistical planning, and utter faith in a musical connection that became quite thick in just a couple weeks. In an art form that generally relies on practitioners’ experience with and knowledge of each other’s musical presence, it’s exciting to see a group forgoing the conventional wisdom and asserting their mutual strengths over the impediments that separation imposes.
Playing in this band has been a new experience for its members in many ways besides their unusual meeting, however. Each musician is of course involved in multiple other projects, including one based out of Seattle called the Kora Band, which is led by Oliver, features McCullough, and infuses jazz with West African styles. McCullough explains that, although each of the groups he plays in is a unique experience, Tunnel Six is “much more of a collective group thing.” The leader-less mindset that can be heard in the music is reflected in the intra-band interactions. When they met at the Banff Workshop, different members brought independently written compositions to the table, which they then processed through various suggestions and alterations from the rest of the group before reaching the versions that were recorded.
The level of interplay that the group achieved in a very short amount of time is remarkable and easily recognized when listening their self-titled EP, which is available for online listening at www.tunnelsix.com. The relatively straightforward and appealing themes that their compositions begin with almost instantly boil into expansive improvisational passages, where the rhythm section provides the lead players with a palette that expands and contracts according to a given solo’s flow. Stubelek will allow a solid beat to fracture into an ecstatic series of fills in reaction to a single note played by McCullough or Dietschi, but wait for their lines to build enough momentum before swinging back into the central rhythm. Nothing is certain or predictable: if the solo doesn’t require a straight beat then Stubelek will wait until the time is right.
Stubelek is far from being the only member who shows such astute patience. Oliver’s piano solos search for the best way to reach a looming climax at a drifting, secure pace, allowing his hands to switch roles as necessary to exploring the different routes that lay before him. Seligman and Hynes contribute silky, subtle accents and depth to the finished sound, tying the group’s personality together. Seligman alternates between glossy leads and decorative backgrounds in order to stealthily integrate Tunnel Six’s sole electric voice. Hynes’ solo on their recording of “With Without” is controlled and sturdy, utilizing an experienced sense of restraint to pick just the right phrases.
McCullough and Dietschi play confident, varied solos, and are just as comfortable playing supporting lines for each other or their other band mates as they are in the spotlight. As McCullough describes playing with Dietschi, “There’s only been one person that I played with other than Ben where it felt like he was right there with me, really listening. We can make it sound like one horn.” The tune “Not Yet” showcases this connection, as McCullough and Dietschi play a finely interwoven dual solo accompanied by Seligman and Oliver’s energetic and provocative interjections, culminating in a moment of shared intensity before taking a sigh of relief and fading back into the main theme.
Beyond the music itself, this project has allowed the sextet to reach a new level of maturity as professional artists. McCullough notes that neither he nor anyone else in the band has ever written grant proposals, planned and organized their own large-scale tour, or handled their own management to the degree that they do now. “It’s a big step for the whole band,” he says. “For me, this shows that if you put in a lot of time and hard work, it’ll really pay off. We’re all getting our names out there, people are going to be paying attention.”
Despite the short amount of time that they have spent playing together, Tunnel Six’s sound has already won over a sizeable number of fans in the right places: grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Regional Arts & Culture Council will be helping to finance the tour as well as the album that the group will be recording once their cross-continental trip is over. The future from there is unplanned, but McCullough is optimistic and enthusiastic about the possibility of another tour of equal or lesser size, along with another album. For the time being, the anticipation over reuniting with his fellow musicians and observing how they’ve grown over the past year, before displaying that level of growth for audiences in no less than thirteen cities, provides more than enough excitement.
THE OCULAR CONCERN
“An outstanding example of the label’s pioneering platform is the captivating Sister Cities by The Ocular Concern. Featuring guitarist Dan Duval, pianist Andrew Oliver, drummer Stephen Pancerev, clarinetist Lee Elderton and vibraphonist Nathan Beck, the category-defying chamber quintet constructs and deconstructs intriguing pyramids of texture, counterpoint and harmony. It’s a worlds-within-worlds canvas. If M.C. Escher had led a band, this would be the sound of it. The group weaves in jazz, neo-classical, African dance, tango, pop, twang, blasts of crunch-rock and subtle odd-metered funk. Minimalism is a strong influence in the music’s pointed rhythmic layers, but the band delivers it all with a fluidity and warmth that minimalism often lacks. The centerpiece is the entrancing four-movement suite “Sister Cities,” augmented by string trio and bandoneon. Composers Duval and Oliver heartily savor the offbeat instrumentation, orchestrating a cinematic spree. Although exacting and sometimes brainy, the Ocular Concern’s music ultimately charms with a melodic and almost innocent sense of wonder.” – Downbeat
“Sister Cities is entrancingly concocted by this Portland, OR. band led by keyboardist Andrew Oliver and guitarist Dan Duval. The primary focal point is the five-part “Sister Cities Suite,” abetted by a three-piece strings section, where the musicians frame the inspiring factors of a globalized 21st century, somehow affiliated with, or corresponding to the names of Portland’s sister cities on a worldwide basis. Regardless, the album hovers very close to masterpiece-like proportions. There is no filler material as the program seizes your attention from start to finish.
The “Sister Cities Suite” is a harmonious synthesis of jazz, Middle-Eastern undertones and progressive rock modalities, snugly wrapped into an interconnected group-centric sound. Burgeoning with sinuously integrated dynamics, the strings section enlarges the acoustic-electric soundscape, along with the tango element tendered by bandoneon performer Alex Krebbs. Moreover, the ensemble’s flair for morphing tuneful riffs and choruses into the big picture is simply an added bonus, as the strings section frequently assimilates with the core unit in symbiotic fashion. The suite is also dappled with colorific and judiciously enacted electronics effects. Here, the musicians render odd-metered detours, hummable ostinato motifs and a recurring inference to Frank Zappa via a blithe and tricky unison vamp, radiating into a reverse-engineered hook.
Certain movements allude to Tango-rock, smoothly ingrained within a hip, jazz element amid regal choruses and the group’s expressive soloing sojourns. Drummer Stephen Pancerev’s punchy backbeats outline a methodical Indie-rock theme-building jaunt on the final suite movement, “The Island Milonga.” And the piece “The Eclectic Piano,” offers a whimsical ostinato motif, sparked by vibraphonist Nathan Beck and expanded by Lee Elderton’s melodic and spiraling clarinet solo.
Among other positive facets, Duval and Oliver shine as gifted composers, possessing deep insights into various genres and styles. And even though it’s early in the year, Sister Citiesshould conceivably find its way on a multitude of best-of lists for 2014, depending on widespread exposure and perhaps some recurring airplay on the appropriate college and satellite stations.” – Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz
“Portland, Oregon-based creative jazz quintet the Ocular Concern are all over the map on 2013’s Sister Cities, although not precisely where you might expect them to be. […] When these skilled musicians of varied backgrounds and disciplines tackle Sister Cities’ compositions — all of which were penned by Duval and/or Oliver — the results are both wide-ranging and singular. With contrapuntal layering of the various instruments and repetitive phrasing perched at the intersection of insistent rhythm, engaging melody, and advanced harmonics, not to mention the group’s prominent clarinet and vibes, the Ocular Concern’s blend of creative jazz and post-minimalism invites comparison to John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet — with some important distinctions. Notably, this band has no bassist, and with keyboardist Oliver covering the low notes, the Ocular Concern possess a fusiony edge that balances the ensemble’s chamber jazz qualities. Guitarist Duval is a perfect foil for both Oliver and Beck, often understated in his voicings (or hypnotically looping during opener “Oxygen Lake”), but also ready to unleash a sudden rampage of huge dirty chords (“Sister Cities Suite: Ghost Town City Council”). And while Beck’s vibes provide ringing clarity, his mbira is warmly organic, rolling along with Duval’s ostinatos and Oliver’s deep pulse in the beautiful East African-tinged groove of “Lafayette,” infectiously rhythmic even as Pancerev accents rather than locks into the beat. “Sisters Cities Suite” is an ambitious highlight, with the strings and bandoneon fully entwined in the quintet’s music, but throughout the album clarinetist Elderton deserves special mention for his freewheeling solos, as he shades his traditional tone and phrasing with an avant edge à la Chris Speed, Michael Moore,Don Byron, and Ben Goldberg. With their often surprising global stylistic meld, the Ocular Concern seem to celebrate the music of sister cities everywhere, discovering new places that any creative jazz fan would want to visit.” – Dave Lynch, AllMusic Guide
“The West Coast ensemble The Ocular Concern meekly touts their product as “Music for the Curious Listener,” but that belies a whole lot of adventure contained within their songs. Dan Duval (electric guitar) and Andrew Oliver (electric piano) are the composers and linchpins behind this Portland, Oregon-based quintet, who, in a jazz world full of acts trying to stand out and be creative, truly are. […] The Ocular Concern is NYC gumption, imagination and chops on the other side of the country. Topped off by the discriminating songwriting tandem of Dan Duval and Andrew Oliver, Sister Cities is, sure enough, music for the Curious Listener. I’d add “discerning” and “adventurous” listeners. All these types of listeners will be richly rewarded by this record.” – Somethin’ Else Reviews
This group’s excellent debut CD grew out of the 12-piece, nonprofit Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, which commissions and performs works by Oregon composers. […] By combining elements of jazz, indie rock, classical and world music, The Ocular Concern is paving a unique path. – Downbeat
“Yet another project featuring the indefatigable jazz pianist Andrew Oliver, this trio includes his fellow traveler guitarist Dan Duval and Paxselin Quartet drummer Stephen Pancerev. Their new EP […] brews up a bubbly mix of originals and covers of Arabic and Eastern-European-inspired jazz, with a zingy electrified sound that recalls Chick Corea and other ’70s fusioneers.” – Willamette Week (Portland, OR)
“This is the new band of the year in my book. Watch for them.” – Oregon Music News – Ocular Concern EP Release Concert Review
PORTLAND JAZZ COMPSERS ENSEMBLE
by Barry Johnson
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Secret Society: Jazz here is even more than the wonderful Esperanza Spalding, the Portland native who has taken the jazz world by storm and still remembers to come back home from time to time. Spalding learned her bass and jazz chops in Portland’s excellent jazz education programs, and those are generating lots of interesting musicians and then they are attracting musicians from elsewhere.
That became immediately clear at the PJCE’s last concert of the season in the little ballroom of Secret Society on Northeast Russell next to the Wonder Ballroom. The composers and musicians in the 14-piece band (and its octet offshoot) were pretty young, often connected to PSU’s music program or connected to people who were.
This is PJCE’s fifth year of operation, and I’d caught a concert early in its life. I wasn’t prepared for how much they’d grown musically. The program included work by several composers — Gus Slayton, Galen Clark, Andrew Oliver, Dan Duvall, Tom Barber, Kyle Williams, Reed Wallsmith, Bill Athens, Joseph Berman, Charles Gray and I may be missing someone. I wouldn’t characterize it, really. Some of the songs were melodic and organized around jazz solos by the musicians in the band, others tried for wilder sonic effects and a few worked both sides of the street.
Personally, I was taken by Oliver’s big-band sounding octet (“High Mountain Dark,” I think it was called), Williams’ “The Island,” which started out thick and slow and chord-y, Galen Clark’s composition featuring a Lee Elderton clarinet solo, and Reed Wallsmith’s piece, which started out with a few of those nice funky Blue Cranes’ chords and then ended practically in a wall of sound. At first, I was irritated that the sound from the Wonder Ballroom was leaking into Secret Society, but then I realized we were giving as much as we were getting!
These were mostly new compositions, and they need to be “lived” in a little, I think, so the musicians are totally comfortable with them. But I was impressed and encouraged both by their sophistication and by the composers’ understanding that the exercise of composing for larger groups is an important one.
In Portland’s music scene right now, the emphasis is on pushing boundaries, blurring distinctions, mastering more complexity, and taking ideas to new levels, and it makes you think that almost anything could pop up in the next concert, including something that will take your breath away.
May 8, 2008
“Our Town Could Be Your Life”
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
by Cary Clarke
The most strikingly punk show I’ve seen this year did not go down in one of the many colorfully named, slightly foul-smelling residences that collectively constitute the Portland house show circuit, but rather in the cavernous front showroom of the Hollywood Music Center, a piano retail emporium on NE 42nd and Sandy. In spite of its ample size, the room felt as excitingly full as a packed basement, the premises being simultaneously enjoyed by dozens of baby grands, scores of uprights, a smattering of keyboards, 75 or so audience members, and 10 or so of their toddlers.
Oh yeah, and the 14 members of the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, ingeniously positioned in what must have been the only possible configuration that could satisfy both Dave Sprando (Portland’s fire chief) and Alexey Pajitnov (the inventor of Tetris). The building had clearly not been designed with this ensemble’s debut concert in mind, but the very unorthodoxy of it, the sense that a collective of young musicians had simply found and made use of a space in their community that they could get donated, and that could accommodate their numbers and volume, cast the January night in a wonderfully DIY light, one that shines on everything that the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble touches.
As much as many of us like to think of our town’s rightly beloved rock, folk, and noise house shows as the definitive models of punk resourcefulness, they do belong to an established tradition, and cater to the dominant musical tastes of our region. On the other hand, the infrastructure for independent jazz in Portland is far less developed, in terms of both audiences and venues. After all, the path from picking a name, to practicing in your basement, to performing in someone else’s is well mapped for a fresh-faced local singer/songwriter. But the road for young jazz composers who want to write for big ensembles more or less comes to a sudden end with the conclusion of high school or college. And this is why we must tip our trucker hats and Crass beanies to the men and women of the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. There was no system for making the kind of music they wanted to make, so they built one—a group explicitly conceived to perform original large-ensemble works by local jazz composers. To date, fully half of the group’s pieces have been written by its own members.
Andrew Oliver—the well-regarded 24-year-old pianist and composer who founded the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble last spring with saxophonist Gus Slayton shortly before graduating from PSU—summarized the group’s ethos: “There are many talented jazz composers in Portland, and we aim to give them a platform for large-group composition and arrangement, which is lacking in the city’s jazz scene…. We feel that if someone takes the time to write a piece, we ought to take the time to play it.” How punk is that?”
ANDREW OLIVER SEXTET
KMHD Jazz Notes
The Return of the Andrew Oliver Sextet – A Night of Young Jazz Eclecticism
by John Pomietlasz
There’s a refreshing, youthful and modern edge emerging in the jazz scene. Well-educated 20-somethings who know and respect tradition are taking the music in innovative directions. […] The sextet treated the crowd to a terrific evening of their diverse brand of jazz, mixing a variety of genres from driving rock to swing to world influences. The individual musicianship of each player was artfully highlighted. […] Bandleader and composer Andrew Oliver directed the band from the piano with delicacy and ease. His clean and rhythmic lines established a base for the others to expand upon. Oliver plays a wide range of styles, linked by restraint and an understanding that less is often more. Instead of excessive fury, he dazzled with moments of subtle, calculated composure. For those who wonder about the future of jazz, the Oliver Sextet gives a brilliant display of what younger jazz musicians in Portland have to offer.
JSO Jazz Scene: May 2008 CD Reviews
Otis Stomp, Andrew Oliver Sextet
by Don Campbell
“This record is a delight, the playing outstanding, and the fact these guys are young doesn’t hurt either. They tip the hat to the masters, yet never play it safe. They’ve gone to school, but still bring something new to the party. These kids are dangerous. I can’t wait to see what they do next.”
Concert Review: The Sam Howard Band
Dec. 9, 2009
by Colin McLaughlin
“This is jazz for young people; a fusion project that frolicked in afrobeat rhythms, bluesy bar-rat solos and some country twang before returning home to a familiar jazz structure, as if they needed to remind you every once in awhile what roots grip the tree. And while Pemberton frequently took center stage, with his distortion pedal and tremolo tinkering, it was Oliver with his sneaky “maybe we should break into some funk” Rhodes lines that really stole the show.”