BLACK CAT JAZZ—ROAD OF SUNSHINE! (Own Label BCAT001),
Playing time: 71m. 49s.
Ting-a-Ling; Collegiate; Pass Me Not O’ [sic] Gentle Saviour; Ole Miss
Rag; My Gal Sal; Just a Little While to Stay Here; Road of Sunshine;
Does Jesus Care?; St. Philip Street Breakdown; When Somebody
Thinks You’re Wonderful; Beer Barrel Polka; Climax Rag.
Recorded live at the Warmley Jazz Club, Bristol, U.K. on Dec. 2, 2015.
Steve Graham, trumpet; Tom Whittingham, trombone and euphonium;
John Scantlebury, clarinet and alto sax; Peter Winterhart, drums; Sarah
Thatcher, banjo and guitar; Spike Kennedy, string bass.
On my infrequent visits to the U.K., I always try to take in a jazz
festival or two, and each time I try to hear “new” (to me) bands, as
well as some old favorites. Such was the case last year (2015) when I
heard the Black Cat Jazz band at the Bude, Cornwall, festival in
September. In this instance the band actually was new, having been
founded only the year before, but one would never have known it by
the quality of the playing. Of all the players, only one, Sarah Thatcher,
was familiar to me as I had heard her in bands on previous visits. She,
along with Spike Kennedy, founded the Black Cat Jazz band, which
played only a single set at Bude, but it was enough to persuade me it
was a “righteous” band.
So when this CD, the band’s first, quite unexpectedly arrived in the
mail for review, I was eager to hear its contents and was not
disappointed. The musicians on this disc are the same as those I heard
at Bude. All are jazz veterans in the U.K., having played with other
bands—some no longer extant, such as the Panama Jazz Kings, and
others still on the scene, such as A Breeze from New Orleans band and
Sunset Café Stompers. They frequently fill in with other bands when
a sub is needed. Their credentials, therefore, are impeccable.
The band subscribes to the uptown New Orleans style, and as Spike
Kennedy says in the insert, the tunes are selected from the repertoires
of “Bunk Johnson, Punch Miller, George Lewis, Emmanuel Paul, the
Humphrey brothers, Kids: Ory, Howard, Clayton, Thomas” et al.
Except for, perhaps, Road of Sunshine and When Somebody Thinks
You’re Wonderful, the tune list of this CD contains few surprises, the
majority being familiar although they are hardly warhorses. There is
no attempt to merely reproduce the renditions given by these New
Orleans icons—the Black Cat Jazz band follows its own muse and
gives a fresh treatment to each tune. Ensemble is, of course, to the
fore, but some solo space is allowed to each musician. Mercifully no
one pattern of order of solos is followed from tune to tune, as is the
case with so many bands, but variety is striven for, and every musician
does not find it necessary to take a solo on every number.
While it is tempting to look at every track, in the interests of space
perhaps some highlights will suffice. Riffing behind the soloist is
common and supportive, as for instance, on Collegiate where backing
is given the second chorus of the clarinet solo. Or there is variety of
texture, such as that in Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour where the tune
opens with the ensemble taking it once through, followed by one time
through with a duet of trombone and clarinet; then the whole group
drops out except for a very soft trumpet lead backed by string bass
only. These two play with diminishing volume to the point that one
could hear that proverbial pin drop; then they are succeeded by the
complete ensemble joining in at the opening volume (the band never
does play blaringly). Of all the selections on this disc, I would choose
this and perhaps the beautiful rendition of another hymn, Does Jesus
Care? as perhaps my favorites.
Tempos are all very sensible, geared as they deliberately are to
dancing. The Black Cat Jazz band has it right—the New Orleans bands
cited above all had, as their objective, playing music for a dance, not a
concert, and the Black Cat Jazz band follows suit, aiming to “perform
music in an authentic New Orleans ‘Dance Hall’ style,” as the liner
notes inform us. And these tempos are adhered to—there is never a
rush to the finish line, thanks to a very steady rhythm section and a
front line that doesn't push the tempo, either. So to cite just the two
closing numbers, Beer Barrel Polka and Climax Rag, the first, Beer
Barrel Polka, is taken at a somewhat sedate—but jaunty—march tempo
(or at a slow polka tempo, if you like), and the second, Climax Rag,
starts—and finishes—at a tempo that allows dancers to avoid tangled
feet coupled with breathlessness, and musicians to execute without
straining to keep up or, as is the case in so many renditions of this
tune, staying abreast of a rapid acceleration.
The Black Cat Jazz band’s performances at Bude and on this CD
confirm that it is among the premier British New Orleans style bands.
Here in the U.S. (certainly the western part) the traditional jazz scene
seems to be a shrinking one, witness the disappearance of so many
jazz festivals as well as clubs and societies over the past few years, and
in the dwindling number of bands there is a dearth of those embracing
the New Orleans style of jazz; whereas Britain seems blessed with an
abundance of them, most very good. This relatively new band, Black
Cat Jazz, is one of that genre and ranks among the best in the U.K.
Two thumbs up for this CD.
More information can be obtained by email from
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 01633 251043. The
band’s website is www.blackcatjazz.co.uk where the CD can be