Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mads Tolling Quartet Feat. Jacob Fischer - Celebrating Svend Asmussen

CD front - Gateway Music (2016)
Later this month - the 28th of February - Danish jazz fiddler supreme Svend Asmussen can celebrate his 100th anniversary. On the occasion of this great day there has already been initiated several events to mark the centennial of the remarkable and world famous Danish jazz musician, a.o. a new book recollecting Asmussen's life and career was released in Denmark last year and a collection of poetry in English and Danish celebrating Svend Asmussen as a person written by his wife, Ellen Bick Asmussen, has also been published. Last year also presented the music of Svend Asmussen in a new constellation by the Mads Tolling Quartet feat. Jacob Fischer in a series of concerts around Denmark and Sweden. Now this ensemble has just released the above shown CD recorded October 2015 featuring some of the music presented at the concert tour appropriately titled Celebrating Svend Asmussen.
Mads Tolling (photo courtesy
Mads Tolling (b 1980) is an internationally renowned violinist and composer conducting a successful career worldwide. He grew up in Copenhagen and moved to the USA at age 20 to pursue jazz studies and graduated summa cum laude from Berkelee College of Music in 2003. While still attending Berklee, the renowned jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty recommended him to join Stanley Clarke’s band. Since then, Tolling has performed more than one hundred concerts with Clarke worldwide, including the Newport Jazz Festival. In 2007 Mads Tolling started his own trio and recorded the album Speed of Light. The following year the trio expanded to a quartet. With this quartet Mads Tolling released a live CD album in 2012 celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty, another CD
titled The Playmaker released in 2009 featured Stanley Clarke, Russell Ferrante and Stefon Harris. More about Mads Tolling's international career and recordings at the official website, here 

The Mads Tolling Quartet presented at the new CD has Mads Tolling playing violin in a repertoire of music known from Asmussen's own quartet live performances and recordings during the 1990s and 2000s. Besides Tolling this quartet has Scandinavian sidemen. Danish jazz guitar ace Jacob Fischer was a mainstay with Asmussen's quartet for 15 years and shares solo spots with Tolling, and they are accompanied by two very competent rhythm players, Kasper Tagel on double bass and Snorre Kirk on drums.
l-r: Kaper Tagel (b), Mads Tolling (v), Snorre Kirk (d), Jacob Fischer (g) (press photo)
There are eleven tracks at the new CD, four of them feature compositions by Asmussen - Take Off Blues, Hambo Om Bakfoten, Nadja and Scandinavian Shuffle. Also featued are two Gershwin tunes - Someone To Watch Over Me and I Got Rhythm, further two jazz standards in a duo performance by Tolling and Fischer - After You've Gone and Honeysuckle Rose. Two latin pieces are also presented - Piazzolla's Libertango and Jacob Fischer's Latino, and finally Asmussen's well known signature tune June Night

The arrangements of the featured tunes are excellent and so is the performance of the music, all members of the quartet contribute to the impression of a solid, swinging record.  The interplay between the musicians is great and well tested through several live performances at the time when the CD was recorded. Mads Tolling has the lead voice in all tracks and his touch at the violin resembles Asmussen's, a trained ear may also be able to trace other influences in Tolling's tone and approach, however, his versions of the featured tunes are great and leave plenty of space for his personal improvisation that gives renewed life and intensity to well-known tunes from Asmussen's book. It is hard to pick out highlights of the CD, all eleven tracks keep the attention of this listener at an intense level. Should I nevertheless point out a few highlights, then it must be the two duet recordings by Tolling and Fischer. Both men have ample opportunity to display their individual capacity as excellent improvisers and attentive musicians, especially the duo's version of Honeysuckle Rose marvels with inventive improvisation by both musicians. As mentioned, the rhythm section in the remaining tracks is competent and also gets solo spots a couple of times which generates a varied impression of the music when listening to the CD. 

- I highly recommend the CD as a splendid homage to the musical legacy of Svend Asmussen and not the least as an opportunity to celebrate his centennial while listening to the music.

The CD is released by Gateway Music and is available for purchase  here and here.  You  have the opportunity to listen to all tracks in full length here.

- If you are in Scandinavia this month, there are plenty of opportunities to attend a live performance by Mads Tolling Quartet featuring Jacob Fischer, a tour schedule is available at Tolling's website, here, or check out local media to keep updated on concert dates and locations.

To end this small review of the Quartet's celebration of Svend Asmussen, I'll insert a couple of uploaded videos of live performances from the quartet's concert tour in 2014. - Here is first a performance of It Don't Mean A Thing ...

Mads Tolling (v) and Jacob Fischer (g) - press photo
From another location, here is Tolling and Fischer's live duet performance of Honeysuckle Rose

Finally, here is the Quartet in a live performance of Asmussen's Scandinavian Shuffle


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Monday, January 25, 2016

Leon Redbone - Flying By

Leon Redbone (photo courtesy
Recently I found out that the incomparable troubadour and pre-World War II ragtime, jazz, blues and Vaudeville stylist Leon Redbone has retired from both public appearances and recording last year. The official website, however, does not give many details of the reason for his retirement, but only states "(...) that his health has been a matter of concern for some time.  It has become too challenging for him to continue the full range of professional activities.". The music scene has indeed become poorer since this official announcement of Leon Redbone's retirement hit the news. Fortunately, we still have access to his records (- approximately fifteen single releases on LP and/or CD), further there are uploaded many recordings of live-performances at YouTube to fill in the missing of new releases and concert performances. - Below I'll focus on Leon Redbone's latest - and last - studio recording, the CD titled Flying By released in January 2014.

The Flying By CD was released after a hiatus of thirteen years when no new studio recordings were made, the previous studio recorded CD by Leon Redbone was Any Time from 2001. In the interim, however, a couple of CDs featuring live performances from the 1980s and 1990s were released. Asked about the reason for this long pause in his recording career, Leon Redbone answered the question in an interview  by simply stating “Things take time.” The answer indicates the seriousness and carefulness of a true artist, the material and conditions for the recording of a new studio album 
are not a haphazard affair but rely on the right moment and the perfect setting. According to the mentioned interview the actual recording of the CD further met practical obstacles and had to use more studio locations before the material was ready for release in January 2014. - The CD has a rather short playing time (c.35 min.) and contains twelve tracks. Leon Redbone is featured as a vocalist on all tracks, he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar but is also supported by a small combo featuring clarinet, cornet, piano and rhythm in several tracks and two tracks have accompaniment by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks big band. Mr. Redbone's regular pianist is Paul Asaro, who participates in all tracks. The material chosen for the CD is eclectic, several of the recorded tunes do not belong to the often heard songs even if you are collector of pre-WW II jazz, blues and sentimental recordings.Firstly, there are two songs originally recorded by female vocalist Lee Morse  for Columbia in 1928, 'Just You And I' and 'Main Street', and Leon Redbone explains the reason for this choice in the mentioned interview, quote "She was a unique individual - everything about her was unique, ... you hear [a Morse] recording one time and it stays with you."

Just You And I opens the CD, the audio of this as well as the other tracks on the CD has been uploaded at YouTube, here.  Below is inserted Leon Redbone's version of the tune, and if you like to hear the original recording by Lee Morse, it's available here  

According to the mentioned interview, band leader of The Nighthawks big band, Vince Giordano, wanted to cut a version of the tune Wanna Go Back Again Blues with Redbone singing the lyrics in an arrangement similar to a recording made by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in 1926 for Gennett, available here  
Here is Leon Redbone's version of Wanna Go Back Again Blues accompanied by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks

There is also featured a blues by ragtime guitarist and vocalist Blind Blake, Police Dog Blues, here in a 1920s small combo  arrangement featuring Vince Giordano on bass sax

Also featured are Leon Redbone's version of Jelly Roll Morton's Mr Jelly Lord with the lyrics known from the famous Library of Congress 1938 recordings, sentimental Tin Pan Alley tunes like Baby Won't You Please Come Home (Marion Harris, Bessie Smith and McKinney's Cotton Pickers a.o. recorded this), the Isham Jones 1924 hit I'll See You In My Dreams, Get Out Get Under The Moon ( recorded by Anette Hanshaw a.o.), Save Your Sorrow (Gene Austin a.o. had a hit with this) and the CD ends with a seldom heard or recorded song composed by Irving Berlin But Where Are You. The song was originally sung In the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie classic Follow the Fleet by Harriet Hilliard - you can hear it and watch Harriet Hilliard singing the song in the movie here  - Here is Leon Redbone's version accompanied by pianist Paul Asaro and violin

There seems to be a preponderance of sentimental songs on the CD, and according to the mentioned interview with Mr. Redbone there is a good reason for that, quote: "Sentimentality in music, suggests Redbone, has “evaporated". It’s just noise volume level, with no sentimentality at all,” he says of contemporary music. “It didn’t get better over the years, which is unfortunate. Maybe a slight jog in the planets might make it get better!" It's my impression that Leon Redbone has put down his foot in a satisfactory way to achieve a slight jog in the planet Earth with the Flying By CD release. I highly recommend it to other fans of the great man as well as newcomers. The CD is available for purchase here

It's a pity that Leon Redbone has retired, but Lorne Michaels is preparing a documentary with the title Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone: The Search for Leon Redbone. A short promo has been uploaded at YouTube, here. - I don't know, if the documentary has been finished by now, but it's certainly worth waiting for. To end this, here is Leon Redbone in a live performance of Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Joe Sodja - A Forgotten Musician And Entertainer

Joe Sodja (1911-1992)
The name of Joe Sodja does not pop up frequently nor is easily found in the usual reference books and articles about jazz or popular performers, and the info found on the internet only provides fragmentary details about his career. However, below I'll refer what I found available about Joe Sodja - a remarkable, but forgotten musician and entertainer.
Joe Sodja 1938 - YouTube still shot
This inserted photo of Joe Sodja is a still shot from a Vitaphone (soundie) film featuring Fred Rich and his orchestra recorded in 1938. Joe Sodja performs as a guest appearance at the end of the film playing a version of Chinatown, My Chinatown accompanied by Fred Rich's band.
Excerpt of Vitaphone trailer
The Vitaphone soundie has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below, Joe Sodja performs Chinatown, My Chinatown starting at 8:19

Joe Sodja's performance in the Vitaphone film shows his extraordinary dexterity as a guitarist combined with a humorous attitude appealing to a wide audience expecting to be entertained. This stage appearance seems to have been a successfull choice, although his attitude may seem outdated nowadays. Nevertheless, Joe Sodja had success and spent most of his career as a professional performer in the popular field of entertainment business. But in 1937 he also had a short stint in a regular jazz setting, when he had the opportunity to record a session under his own name for the Variety label as Joe Sodja's Swingtette accompanied by some top notch jazz artists of the time: Joe Marsala (cl), Frank Froeba (p), Artie Shapiro (b) and George Wettling (d). The session was recorded in New York on June 18, 1937 and four sides were cut, but only two of them were issued. The discographical info is inserted below
Info excerpted from Tom Lord's discography vers. 9.0 (click to enlarge)
This session by Joe Sodja is the only registered jazz session during his career, moreover the recording of Limehouse Blues is the only tune from the session that has been reissued. It was reissued in the 1970s on a double LP by Columbia Records titled 50 Years of Jazz Guitar featuring various artists.

Joe Sodja's guitar playing in this swinging version of Limehouse Blues is quite intriguing and remarkable. His approach does not resemble the commonly applied technique by any of his well known contemporary American fellow guitarists. His guitar solo style has been compared with Django Reinhardt's because of the use of fast and long solo runs up and down the fretboard especially well known from Reinhardt's 'manouche' approach to the guitar soloist's opportunities. Sodja's right hand picking technique seems to have been transferred from a mandolin or banjo approach, which incidentally seems likely, since he also knew and played these string instruments. When not playing solo, his approach to comping also resembles Reinhardt's style - very unusual for an American guitarist at the time.
Joe Sodja featured in an ad for Gibson guitars
Joe Sodja was from Cleveland, where he was born in 1911 in a family with Slovenian roots. He had four brothers with whom he formed a band, The Arcadian Melody Pilots, that performed locally playing polkas and waltzes at dance hall gigs and was featured on local radio networks. At that time his great idol and inspiration was Harry Reser, the famous tenor banjo player and bandleader, and he concentrated on learning and refining his banjo playing technique. At age 16 he was discovered by talent scout and bandleader Paul Ash, who had a longer stint at a theatre in Cleveland with his orchestra. Sodja was invited to perform with the orchestra as a soloist, and after this engagement he became a popular solo attraction on the radio, first locally but in the early 1930s he was discovered and hired by bandleader Fred Waring, who had his own programs featuring his orchestra and invited guest on the NBC radio that reached all regions of the US. His engagement with NBC and Fred Waring brought Sodja to New York where he was a regular featured artist in Waring's programs during the 1930s. He also toured as a soloist on the national night club and conventional circuit performing light entertainment music besides appearing in various TV shows from the late 1940s and on. From about 1946 Sodja started a collaboration with pianist and bandleader Julian Gould with whom he recorded 150 transcriptions for Langworth during the following ten years in a trio setting labeled as the Joe Sodja Trio.
Julian Gould
The Langworth transcriptions by the Joe Sodja Trio - like similar recordings by other artists -  were not commercially issued but were strictly decided for radio broadcast only. As far as I know, none of these transcriptions by the Joe Sodja Trio have since been reissued on LP or CD, but a couple of examples are available at YouTube. - Here is first Joe Sodja Trio performing Guitar Boogie 

Sodja's guitar solo in this version of Guitar Boogie shows his inspiration from Les Paul, who had a hit with his version of the tune in 1947. The interplay with Gould's piano is excellent and the result is a swinging take that withstand repeated listening, I think. The same applies to the recording by the trio of a version of Exactly Like You from the Langworth transriptions

Sodja's collaboration with Julian Gould also included a recording of a LP that featured Sodja playing tenor banjo
LP front cover illustration
The audio from this LP has been uploaded at YouTube, here's an example of the duo's playing in the honky tonk style

In 1957 Joe Sodja was hired to participate in a low-budget Hollywood Western movie titled The Parson and the Outlaw where he had a small role as a newspaper agent, moreover he composed and recorded the soundtrack music for the movie showing off his banjo playing
Original movie poster
The movie was a success and was followed by a couple more in the same genre, Sodja again was offered small roles and participated in the screen play. About the same time there was recorded a couple of solo performances on screen featuring Joe Sodja showing off his capacity as a guitar player. To end this presentation of a remarkable musician and entertainer, here is Joe Sodja playing his version of The Old Mill Stream 


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Friday, December 25, 2015

Seasonal Joys

As editor of Hans Koert's website and blogs I want to thank you readers for your support in 2015 and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2016. - It's the time for the seasonal joys, here are some musical recordings to accompany the spirit of the holidays.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

When Lights Are Low - Lionel Hampton All-Star Session, September 1939

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton signed a favorable contract with RCA Victor in 1937 that allowed him to invite musicians from other popular jazz orchestras of the time to record a series of sessions that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible to organize. From 1937 to 1941 Hampton recorded 107 sides featuring musicians from the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller and Earl Hines, giving him the cream of the period’s soloists and rhythm players. These recordings rank among some of the best small band swing jazz of the late 1930s and they have since been reissued both on vinil and CD, i.e.. at the 5 CDs box-set from Mosaic some years ago, shown below (- unfortunately out of print).
Mosaic #238, The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-41
Here I like to put focus on a famous session from September 11, 1939 that unites Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Ben Webster as the dream sax section with a young Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Clyde Hart (piano), Charlie Christian (guitar), Milt Hinton (double bass) and Cozy Cole (drums); Hampton leads the session and contributes both on vibes and as vocalist.
Exerpt of discograpical info, Mosaic #238 (click to enlarge)
Benny Carter's arrangement of When Lights Are Low was the first tune and recorded in two takes, the second take probably is the best known featuring solo spots by Carter, Hampton, Hart and Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins
The first take of When Lights Are Low has a different solo by Hampton

One Sweet Letter From You has vocal by Hampton and the guitar playing obligato is by Charlie Christian (- here on acoustic strings)
Charlie Christian
The tenor solo is by Hawkins or Webster (- unfortunately I'm not the expert to differentiate the two in this session, sorry) 

Hot Mallets has a nice muted trompet solo by a young Dizzy Gillespie exchanging riffs with Carter's alto followed by a short tenor contribution by Chu Berry and a lengthy Hampton solo
Dizzy Gillespie

The last tune in this session was Early Session Hop that has fine examples of the sax section playing in unison followed by solos by Hawkins, Hampton and Carter
l-r: Webster, Carter, Berry, Hawkins (sax), Hart (piano)

What makes these recordings magnificent examples of small band swing of the late 1930s is not only the solo contributions by the reed players and the leader. The rhythm is execellently supported by great playing of both Milt Hinton's double bass, Christian's guitar comping and Cozy Cole's drums.
Cozy Cole
The rather short playing time of each of the recorded tunes leaves a wish for more, however, you could also say that the session is a fine example of the artistic formula expressing the experience that - sometimes - less is more ...!

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nobody's Sweetheart

Original Sheet front illustration (1924)
Nobody's Sweetheart was published in 1924 with music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, and lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman. The song was introduced by Ted Lewis  in the revue The Passing Show of 1923.
Part of music sheet front
Jazz musicians took an immediate liking to the tune, and ever since its inception it has been a favorite of jazz players and listeners everywhere.

Isham Jones and his orchestra
Isham Jones and his orchestra was one of the first 'hot' dance bands to record a version of Nobody's Sweetheart in February 1924

The lyrics of Nobody's Sweetheart are about a female character who challenges the norm and morality of the the bourgeois, the text reads: 
You're nobody's sweetheart now.
They don't baby you somehow.
Fancy hose, silken gown--
You'd be out of place in your own hometown. 
When you walk down the avenue,
They just can't believe that it's you.
Painted lips, painted eyes, 
Wearing a bird of paradise--
It all seems wrong somehow that
You're nobody's sweetheart now.

Marion Harris
Vaudeville singer Marion Harris  had a hit with Nobody's Sweetheart in 1929 

Cab Calloway and his orchestra
Bandleader Cab Calloway and his orchestra had success with the recording of Nobody's Sweetheart with vocal by the leader 1930

During the 1930s Nobody's Sweetheart became part of the standard book of the swing jazz ensemble, here I'll focus on two recordings made on December 5, 1938.

Freddie Valier's String Swing - Robert Normann far right
The guitarist Robert Normann recorded his first session with Freddie Valier's String Swing in Oslo on December 5, 1938. Among the four recordings was a version of Nobody's Sweetheart featuring a great solo by Robert Normann, inserted below

Oscar Alemán in the 1930s
Also on December 5, 1938, this time in Copenhagen, another version of Nobody's Sweetheart was recorded. Oscar Alemán recorded his solo version of the tune while on tour in Scandinavia with Josephine Baker - the recording is an unaccompanied solo for guitar by a master of the instrument

This particular recording by Oscar Alemán - together with the three other tunes recorded at the same session - was my step stone 35 years ago to embark on a research adventure of the complete discography of Oscar Alemán. Until recently the online discography patiently and carefully collected by Hans Koert has been the most complete listing of Alemán's recorded legacy. Now a revised and updated version of the material including newly found items has been made available by Andrés 'Tito' Liber. You may read more about it at the Oscar Alemán blog that also has the links to an uploaded and free accessible version of the discography, here 

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Handful Of Keys - And More

Fats Waller
According to info at the Red Hot Jazz website quoted here: "Fats Waller's big break occurred at a party given by George Gershwin in 1934, where he delighted the crowd with his piano playing and singing. An executive of Victor Records, who was at the party was so impressed that he arranged for Fats to record with the company. This arrangement would continue until Waller's death in 1943. Most of the records he made were released under the name of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. The group consisted of around half a dozen musicians who worked with him regularly, including Zutty Singleton. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s Fats was a star of radio and nightclubs, and toured Europe. He unexpectedtly died on board a train near Kansas City, Missouri of pneumonia in 1943."

Fats Waller and His Rhythm (1938)
About Fats Waller and His Rhythm the following is also quoted from the Red Hot Jazz website:
"Between 1934 and 1942 the group recorded about 400 sides, well over half of Waller's lifetime recorded output. Material ranged from downright lamentable to outstanding and Waller's treatment of it ranged from brusque to brilliant. (-) The "Rhythm" was primarily a studio band, and recording dates had to be worked into the musicians' different schedules. Waller's genius carried the band, enabling them to record as many as ten sides in a single day, often consisting mainly of new material. Rarely did band members know in advance which tunes they would be recording! It is a testament to the collective musical talent of the group that they managed so well without rehearsal. This chaotic approach succeeded in part because of consistency in core personnel which included Waller, Autrey, Sedric and Casey. The chaos no doubt contributed to the spontaneity which characterizes many of the Rhythm's recordings." (Mike Donovan at Red Hot Jazz, here )

Paul Asaro at the piano
Paul Asaro is one of a chosen few contemporary piano players who has continued the stride piano style of Fats Waller convincingly, here's an example

In 2012, Rivermont Records released a CD featuring Paul Asaro that revitalizes the music originally recorded by Fats Waller and His Rhythm

CD front: Rivermont BSW-2222, CD (2012)
Paul Asaro is accompanied by members of the Chicago based jazz ensmeble The Fat Babies - Andy Schumm (co), John Otto (cl,ts), Jake Sanders (g), Beau Sample (sb) and Alex Hall (dms), and the repertoire of the disc features both popular and lesser known tunes from the Fats Waller and His Rhythm's recorded output. There are forteen tracks at the CD, a tracklist is available here 

The Fat Babies with Paul Asaro on piano (press photo)
The music at the disc is excellently performed by Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies, audio quality is top notch recreating the atmosphere of the Victor studio recordings by Fats waller and His Rhythm. I highly recommend the CD as a successful attempt to relive some of Fats Waller's recorded legacy convincingly without spoiling the original source. These cats know their stuff and carry on a heavy heritage. - Below is inserted some examples of live performance of some of the tunes presented at the CD. Here's Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies from a live performance earlier this year performing Blue Turning Grey Over You 

From a live performance last year, here is Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies playing the lesser known I'll Dance At Your Wedding 

To end this, from a live performance earlier this year Belive It, Beloved - My, My, My! Now here 'tis; Latch On!


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