Dinah*; Climax Rag; St. James Infirmary*; Milenberg Joys; Mahogany
Hall Stomp; You Always Hurt the One You Love; Tell Me Your Dream;
Riverside Blues; Sing On; Blame It on the Blues; Oh, Lady Be Good;
The Girls Go Crazy.
Ken Colyer, cornet, vocal*; Sammy Rimington, clarinet; Mike Pointon,
trombone; Bill Stotesbury, banjo; Annie Hawkins, string bass; Colin
Recorded live on a cruise from Westminster Pier, London, on Sept. 6,
This recent release by Upbeat will bring joy to the hearts (and ears)
of the coterie of Ken Colyer fans. It consists of previously unissued
material from some 40-odd years ago and, although recorded at a
Thames riverboat event most probably by some non-professional, the
sound is surprisingly good, thanks in large part most likely to the
ministrations of Messrs. George Crump and Glenn Mitchell, who
handled the transfers. A few tracks are missing the first note or two,
due to late starting of the tape recorder, I would imagine, but that is a
minor flaw, as is a slight imbalance in the sound, which is to be
expected of a live recording.
One of the advantages of a non-studio recording is that there is an
audience present, and the synergy that can develop between band and
audience can lift the band to another level. The energy that the band
displays on this recording is indicative of such communication,
although since almost every track quickly cuts off as soon as the tune
ends, it is difficult to assess exactly the audience response. But there is
no mistaking the exuberance of the playing, to which surely the
audience contributed, coupled with the shouts of encouragement and
approbation to be heard on various tracks.
All the songs in this playlist have been done elsewhere many times
by Colyer, but each version always is fresh. Changes in personnel
account for this in part, but there is no mistaking Colyer’s part as he
marshals his troops in the direction he wants. The collective
improvisation of the ensembles is stressed. While individuals do take
solos, they tend to have only the first chorus to themselves, the rest of
the front line joining in with riffs to support successive choruses.
This, coupled with multiple ensembles—especially leading up to
codas—and judicious use of dynamics, builds an excitement which
engages both musicians and audience alike.
This is apparent on the first track, Dinah, and the others that follow
are no different. Climax Rag opens in rather leisurely fashion with
interesting variations by Colyer on the breaks. When Rimington takes
the lead, it is in the bottom register—a rich, full bodied tone—
followed by his working up through the middle and upper registers.
In turn, Colyer plays some delightful little chromatic runs on his turn
at lead. After the solos, there are several choruses all building in
intensity—but not volume—leading into the coda.
Each of the selections has its own moments. St. James Infirmary
includes Rimington exploring the entire range of his instrument with
great flurries of notes; Colyer illustrating the manner vibrato can
enhance the blues (as he does again on Riverside Blues); and Bowden
underscoring the funereal component with the pressed rolls on a
muffled snare. One could go on to deconstruct each cut, but that
would be to deprive the listener of that pleasure.
This is all pure Colyer, even though some two years earlier he had
some serious health issues and had to give up leading his band. There
is no hint of any difficulty here—his playing is as strong as ever. The
cast around him is stellar. On the one side he has Pointon’s gruff
trombone below him and on the other Rimington’s clarinet below,
around, and above him. The rhythm section keeps a fairly steady grip
on tempos, only a little rushing being detectable here and there.
Sometimes Bowden gets a little carried away with rather loud tom
toms, cymbal crashes, and rim shots. His four-bar tag at the end of
Mahogany Hall Stomp seems to catch the others unaware, and a
potential train wreck is avoided by Colyer’s adroitly bringing the
others in with a couple of measures leading to a repeat of the last four.
But there can be no gainsaying the excitement the ebullient Bowden
musters in the back line. Hawkins’ strong bass plucking is very
complementary in this regard, as is Stotesbury’s solid four on banjo.
These three provide a solid platform for the front line to build on. It
all adds up to a fine performance.
Undoubtedly there are other private recordings out there of gigs
where Colyer heads one or another aggregation. Some may be of
sufficiently high quality to release. This was one such, and
fortunately Upbeat chose to make it available. It deserves to be on
everyone’s CD shelves. Ordering info. is available at the Upbeat