by Bert Thompson
NEW BLACK EAGLE JAZZ BAND—Nothin' But the Blues (BE(CD)2013).
Playing time: 62m. 51s.
Misty Morning (b); Mahogany Hall Stomp (b); Riverside Blues (a); Sonora’s Blues
(c); Choo Choo Ch’Boogie† (a); Tia Juana Man (b); When the Sun Goes Down* (b);
Don’t Start No Stuff* (a); Sportin’ Life‡ (d); Yellow Dog Blues (a); Nothing Blues*
(e); Steal Away (a); KC Moan* (a); Joe Avery’s Piece (a).
Recorded in Concord, Massachusetts, Apr. 26, 2009.
Personnel: (a) Tony Pringle, cornet, vocal*; Billy Novick, clarinet, alto sax, vocal†;
Stan Vincent, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano, vocal‡; Peter Bullis, banjo; Barry
Bockus, string bass; Billy Reynolds, drums. (b) as (a) but Duke Robillard, guitar,
replaces Bullis. (c) Novick, clarinet, and Pilsbury, piano. (d) Pilsbury, piano; Pringle,
cornet; Robillard, guitar. (e) as (a) plus Robillard, guitar.
Like “jazz,” the term “blues” does not admit of a single, precise, concise definition.
Contrary to what some people believe, blues are not necessarily slow and mournful;
as Billie Holiday said in an introduction to a blues number she was about to sing,
“There are sad blues and there are happy blues.” One can also add that there are
slow blues and fast blues—and even medium tempo blues. There are so-called
“classic” 12-bar blues and the perhaps more often encountered 16-bar blues (but
interestingly these proportions are reversed on this album as ten of the fourteen
tunes are 12-bar blues). The New Black Eagles embrace all of these variations on
this thematic album dedicated to the blues. (There was a previous one for
“gospels.” Will “country” be next?)
For good measure the band also engaged the services of Duke Robillard, the blues
guitarist from Rhode Island, who is well known in blues circles as leader of several
bands, including Roomful of Blues, and member of some others. He has recorded
over 60 albums, as soloist and as leader of his own bands and with other bands and
artists, many of these albums being on the Rounder and Stony Plain labels. All of
the other members are, to use Condon’s term, the “usual suspects,” except for
Reynolds’ substituting for Pameijer on drums. However, since he has subbed on
numerous other occasions, he fills in seamlessly.
The opening track, Ellington’s Misty Morning, a medium tempo blues, immediately
sets the tone. The pulse of the rhythm section is awesome. Bockus’ string bass and
Robillard’s chording on acoustic guitar (which he plays throughout the CD),
coupled with Pilsbury’s piano and Reynolds’ subtle drumming provide a solid
platform for the front line. The piece opens with two ensemble choruses, followed
by muted cornet and clarinet solos. Robillard then plays a couple of masterful
single string choruses, followed by piano and then the ensemble out choruses,
which end with a concise retard.
After this most satisfying opening, the listener is then regaled for the rest of the 60-
odd minutes with a musical feast. As the tune list shows, there are those numbers
that are familiar and those that are less so, among the latter being Sonora’s Blues, an
original by Billy Novick, and Nothing Blues, a composition by my fellow Scot, the
late clarinetist Sandy Brown. On this recording of this tune, a cooker, Robillard is
joined by Bullis on banjo, making a 5-man rhythm section, which rocks behind the
front line and Pringle’s vocal. Don’t Start No Stuff may look unfamiliar, but on
hearing it one will recognize Shake That Thing—which, however, has different
lyrics. Another seldom-heard piece is the Blythe/Dodds composition Steal Away,
which is not to be confused with the spiritual Steal Away [Home to Jesus].
Butch Thompson has contributed the useful liner notes we have come to expect
from him. He presents some interesting insights on the blues and the band’s
approach to them, as well as data on each of the tunes on the album. To sum up,
this is a CD that will appeal to all traditional jazz aficionados.
Ordering information can be found at the band’s web site: www.blackeagles.com. It
may also be available from mail order sites.