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Bert Thompson

SAVANNAH JAZZ BAND—Sacred & Secular (p.e.k. SOUND PKCD-392).  Playing
time: 73m. 37s.

In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree; The Girls Go Crazy ‘bout the Way I Walk*;  
Storyville Blues; Oh Lady Be Good†; The Old Rugged Cross; Nobody Knows the
Trouble I’ve Seen*; Georgia Bo Bo; My Gal Sal‡; Nyboders Pris (The Praise of
Nyboder); Key to the Highway*; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; Lord Lord Lord†;
Canal Street Blues/Goin’ Home†

Recorded live at the Falcon Club, Bude, on Aug. 27, 2014, during the Bude Festival
that year.

Personnel: Bill Smith, cornet, harmonica, vocals*; Roger Myerscough, clarinet, alto
sax, vocals†; Brian Ellis, trombone, piano; Chris Marney, banjo, vocal‡; Tony Pollitt,
double bass; John Meehan, drums.

Many jazz bands have short lives—they have their “hour upon the stage and then
[are] heard no more.”  The Savannah Jazz Band is not one of them, having been on
stages in the U.K., several European countries, Canada, and cruise ships now for
almost four decades and showing no signs of a demise as they already have
bookings—half dozen or more per month—through at least the end of 2017.
To date, Lake Records, p.e.k. Records, and (now defunct) Raymer Sound have issued
some twenty-five or so recordings of the band, and listening to them one can
understand the band’s popularity.  This CD from p.e.k. Records is a worthy addition
to the band’s discography and adds to that reputation.  Despite having no permanent
banjo player yet to replace the last one, I believe, the band still has a “tight” sound,
the ensemble working together as a unit, not as backing for individuals to display
their techniques.  
The band leans heavily toward the New Orleans style of collective improvisation, and
this is apparent on the first track, In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, and almost
every other thereafter.  The tune opens with the rhythm section laying down a
swinging straight four/four on which the front line can dance.  The cornet has a good
fat tone and tightly controlled expression, and the trombone and clarinet play their
roles below and above that lead.  There is nothing frantic—the volume is subdued, no
one tries to out-blow any other.  Some contrast is provided by the choruses given over
to occasional solos by the cornet, clarinet and trombone. These are all interspersed
with ensembles choruses or a trombone-plus-clarinet-led chorus, the cornet having
dropped out.  The two brass instruments add mutes on occasion, and dynamics are
always given careful attention. Here and elsewhere, the band plays some choruses so
softly that one can almost hear the dancers’ feet shuffling, just as Buddy Bolden liked
to do.  On the out choruses, the volume is given a gradual, slight crescendo.  

The back line also plays a role in all of this, of course.  These musicians are not given
much to soloing—the banjo takes a solo on only four of the tunes, the bass and drums
on none—but their presence is felt, the two stringed instruments laying down a solid
four and the drums being impeccably tasteful with tom tom accents and pressed rolls
where required—even playing on the rims on Canal Street Blues—cymbals being
sparingly used for accents.

Variety is constantly to the fore, whether it be the shifting order of soloists (no
repetition of a pattern from tune to tune), the mixture of tempos, the differing
dynamics, or even the unexpected rhythm, such as the shuffle rhythm of Key to the
Highway.  Although there is no piano included in this sextet, yet we are given a few
choruses on piano on two tracks by the trombonist.  Additional variety is introduced
by the occasional solo on alto sax and on harmonica, an instrument that is often found
in blues bands.
All of this keeps the listener’s interest high—one never quite knows what to expect
next from these talented musicians.  To keep everything on a positive note, I will
conclude by simply mentioning that about half of the tracks contain vocals.

Those who are familiar with this veteran band will find this CD a worthwhile addition
to their collection.  Those who are unfamiliar with the band will find it a useful
introduction.  Ordering information can be found at http://www.cduniverse.
2E+sound&style=music&page=2 (CD universe) or http://www.peksound.co.
uk/catalogue.htm (p.e.k. Sound).
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