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Bert's Bits -- CD Review:  Gota River Jazzmen
Bert Thompson
CD Review
by Bert Thompson

GOTA RIVER JAZZMEN—LILIES OF THE VALLEY (Gota River Jazzmen GRJCD
09).  Playing time:  75 mins. 43 Secs.
How about You?; Some Day; The Light from the Lighthouse; Lascia Ch’io Pianga;
Silver Bell; Pass Me Not; To the Work; God Will Take Care of You; God’s Ways;
The King and I; Softly and Tenderly; When My Journey Is Ended; All That Our
Savior Hath Spoken; Lilies of the Valley; Peace, Perfect Peace; Meeting in the Air;
That’s All.

Recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden, Apr. 22-23, 2007.
Personnel:  Esbjörn Olsson, co; Sverker Nyström cl, voc; Lars Ehnström, tb; Göran
Möller, bj; Ingemar Wågerman, p;  Bertil Boström, sb; Lars Gunnar Röök, dr.

For some time now I have been convinced that some of the best—indeed almost the
only—New Orleans-style jazz being played today is found in the U.K. and Europe,
not the country of its birth, the U.S.  While there are one or two bands playing that
style in the States today, one practically never hears them (or of them) unless they
have a local gig within easy commute distance.  With very few exceptions, such as
the San Diego festival, U.S. jazz festivals do not include such bands in their band
rosters, instead filling them completely with Dixieland or West Coast-style bands or
All-Stars, congenial though they be to many people and excellent though the bands
usually are.  Still, for the aficionado of New Orleans-style, the pickings are slim.  
(Such is not the case in the U.K. and Europe, as a glance at, say, the Bude Festival
line-up will show.)  It should come as no surprise, then, when a foreign band is
invited to a U.S. festival, invariably it is not a New Orelans-style band; thus bands
like the Gota River Jazzmen are essentially unknown here.  And more’s the pity.

The Gota River Jazzmen began earning its spurs some five decades ago when it was
founded and has been producing consistently fine music ever since, despite
changes in personnel (although two members, Esbjörn Olsson and Lars Ehnström,
have been there since the beginning).  Somehow they have always managed to
come up with a worthy replacement to fill a vacancy, and they have done it again
with drummer Lars Gunnar Röök, who has only been playing drums for a few years
but is well on the way to mastering the New Orleans style, with its press rolls and
judicious—and sparing—use of cymbals.  I was quite impressed.  All of the other
personnel have been with the band for some time and have appeared on previous
CD’s, this one being the band’s tenth, I believe, although they also appear on other
compilation CD’s.  (For more information on the band, its recordings, etc., go to http:
//listen.to/gotariver)

Like those of many of the classic New Orleans bands, the Gota River’s book
contains many hymns, gospels, and spirituals.  Two previous CD’s were given over
to a complete program of such, this one making the third, and one of the beauties of
these CD’s track lists is that they usually contain many tunes that are refreshingly
new (at least to my ears).  Of all the numbers on this CD, I recognized only about six
on first glance, and a couple of these I had not heard until about a year ago.  So it
was with some anticipation I waited to hear the contents, and I was not
disappointed.

True to the style, the band is laid back—not frantic, not blaring, but paying
attention to dynamics, to ensembles, to playing for each other—and the result is
they swing like mad most of the time.  Rather than address each track, I’ll just point
to what were for me some of the highlights.  Despite all the tunes’ being religiously
oriented, there is much variety otherwise.  Tempos are varied throughout the
recording (and sometimes are guilty of just a little speeding up a couple of
numbers—let us call it, as Ken Colyer did, “controlled acceleration”), and such
variety in tempos adds to the interest.    Or there is Wagerman’s pensive
introduction to The Light from the Lighthouse after which he launches into four
bars of alternating chords, setting the tempo for the rest of the band to pick up.  
Other highlights for me were the medium “raggy” tempo of Silver Bell, Wagerman’s
delicate touch in his solo treatment of God’s Ways, the splitting of choruses of
When My Journey Is Ended, or the breaks in That’s All.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize here Olsson’s fine mute work; of his
fellow veteran Ehnström’s great backing and solos on trombone; of Nyström’s tone,
his facility in all ranges of the clarinet (without squeaks!), and his vocals in English
with a minimum of accent; and the solid underpinning provided by Möller (who
does not solo) on banjo and Boström on string bass (including his nice arco work on
Softly and Tenderly).

Finally, kudos to Ingemar Wågerman for the liner notes.  I know personally how
much effort he puts into researching tunes and their provenances, and we are the
beneficiaries of such dedication.

As all of the above should convince you, this is a fine CD, one which you should
have no hesitation acquiring.  You can do so by contacting Ingemar Wågerman at
<gotariver@spray.se> and he will provide the ordering details, including method of
payment, for this and the band’s other CD’s.  On a final note, this CD’s packaging is
the cardboard gatefold type (called a “digipak”), and that means it will get to you
without the cracked jewel case that so often results from the gentle ministrations of
so many post offices.
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization