Face the Music

Face the Music 9.26.13 – recent recordings!
Alex Belhaj’s Crescent City Quartet’s new album “Sugar Blues”Pete Siers Trio’s new album “Krupa”
Weary BluesBelhaj
Wire Brush StompSiers
Careless LoveBelhaj
St. Louis BluesSiers
Viper MadBelhaj
Back Home in IndianaSiers
Four or Five TimesBelhaj
Stompin’ at the SavoySiers
Tiger RagBelhaj
Limehouse BluesSiers

The word tradition is derived from the Latin tradere, signifying cultural elements that are handed along for the good of all. It’s the same etymological root as the word trade. Traditions can and do work both ways. The musicians of today give back to musical ancestors who continue to send us gifts and messages. Magic from the dawn of the 20th century re-manifests in the 21st. 
Periodically, Alexander Belhaj’s strongly steeped devotion to living tradition transports him and his guitar to New Orleans where he sits in and absorbs the continuum firsthand. Alex, like Marty Grosz, is a predominately chordal guitarist and a devoted follower of the great Al Casey. Listen deeper and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the spirits of Bernard Addison, Teddy Bunn, Dick McDonough, Eddie Lang and Bill Basie’s rhythm man Freddie Green. Alex is a gentle soul whose friendliness, diligence and sincerity are all too uncommon in a hard-boiled world.
For this recording project Alex assembled an intimate group of skilled improvisers who share his passion for music from the 1920’s and ‘30s. Clarinetist Ray Heitger has served for many years as Toledo, Ohio’s grand interpreter of traditional jazz. His inspired solos and visceral vocals bring caloric urgency to any gathering. Regular engagements with Paul Klinger’s Easy Street Jazz Band, in fact, have sent tremors throughout the far west side of Ann Arbor. Heitger’s playing invites visitations from clarinet legends Jimmie Noone, Rudy Powell, Omer Simeon and {when Ray really gets to feeling right} even Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Cornetist Dave Kosmyna has devoted much of his life to the early strata of the jazz tradition. His Great Lakes peregrinations include distinguished service in Buffalo, Toronto, Toledoand Ann Arbor. While basking in the glow of his horn you might feel Herman Autrey, Lee Collins, Joe Oliver and Rex Stewart hanging out at the table near the back. Alex Belhaj’s Crescent City Quartet is anchored and illuminated by Hamtramck-based string bassist Jordan Schug. Also a master cellist, Schug has worked with Paul Keller’s Orchestra and the Hot Club of Detroit. The interaction between mister Belhaj and mister Schug is particularly gratifying.
Alex has selected his weave of stomps, blues and spirituals most carefully. In choosing to perform melodies by Louis Cottrel, Clarence Williams, Artie Matthews and the Mississippi Sheiks, he has demonstrated a keen awareness of our cultural legacy. The heart of this album may be found in the cluster of tunes that includes “Four or Five Times”, “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and “Viper Mad”, a defiantly hedonistic number premiered by Noble Sissle and Sidney Bechet in 1938. The CCQ’s realization of this ode to Mezz Mezzrow’s favorite herbal analgesic features a spirited group vocal similar to what Ann Arborites have come to expect from Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings. Impressionable souls may feel the need to stand up and strut around with one index finger in the air.
arwulf arwulfann arbor 2013
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Krupa Pete Siers Triofeaturing Dave Bennett & Tad Weed               rewritten 8/08/132013 PKO 061
Please take note, because this is good news of the highest order. Percussionist Pete Siers, clarinetist Dave Bennett and pianist Tad Weed have put together a tribute to drummer and bandleader Gene Krupa, and it’s guaranteed to alter your central nervous system in all the right ways. Usually remembered as the dynamo behind Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”, Krupa also attracted attention when he magnified the impact of his own orchestra by featuring Roy Eldridge and Anita O’Day. Although he began recording as a leader in 1935, Krupa’s discography really reaches back to 1927 when he strained the parameters of studio recording technology as a member of the Eddie Condon Mob. Krupa’s inspirations and influences constitute fundamental links with the very bedrock of traditional jazz drumming. They included Warren “Baby” Dodds, Zutty Singleton and Chick Webb.
For this project Pete zeroed in on the trio recordings that Krupa made for Columbia and V-Disc in 1945, and for Clef, the precursor to Verve, in 1952. Pete’s choices are characteristically insightful and astute. Maybe you’ll notice a pair of intriguing titles amongst the more familiar struts, stomps, swing tunes and ballads. “Number Ten Richie Drive” was the street address of Krupa’s pad up in Yonkers, while “Fine’s Idea”, originally arranged by saxophonist Charlie Ventura, is largely based on the chord progressions of Edgar Sampson’s “Blue Lou”. It occupies a special niche in the collective classic jazz discography alongside “The Count’s Idea” and “The Duke’s Idea” by Charlie Barnet; the bop standard “Ray’s Idea” and something called “Pig’s Idea” which was recorded in 1940 by a Chicago-based pre-bop string band billed as the Cats and the Fiddle. Collectively credited to Krupa, Ventura and pianist Teddy Napoleon, “Fine’s Idea” is a lively modern-sounding piece of work, very like the mercurial maneuverings of Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five. It’s worth noting that during the Korean War, Krupa’s threesome took themselves all the way to Tokyo where Ventura startled fans at the Ernie Pyle Theater by whipping out a bass saxophone.
Cut to Southeastern Michigan nearly sixty years later, and if you’re like me the Pete Siers Trio’s Krupa is likely to knock you on your ass. Tad Weed’s creative dexterity is nothing short of breathtaking. A monstrously adept improviser, he is capable of reinventing the wheel while the rig is rolling in fourth gear. Remember how Jaki Byard could invoke the entire history of jazz piano at one sitting, and sometimes within the construct of one tune? Tad is comparably brilliant. Dave Bennett sometimes conveys the impression that he can play the clarinet inside out. Taken in combination with Mr. Weed’s disarming ingenuity, Bennett’s virtuosity is downright jaw-dropping. He combines the fluency of Buster Bailey, Rudy Powell and Benny Goodman with the early modern sensibilities of Artie Shaw, Marshall Royal and Buddy De Franco. Pete’s extraordinary command of the drum kit is the direct result of a lifelong devotion to Krupa and a sanguine pantheon of drummers from all over the traditional spectrum. Watching him at work is always a gas. Last time I heard him with the Easy Street Jazz Band, Pete appeared to be nonchalantly conjuring the spirits of Big Sid Catlett as well as Condon cohorts George Wettling and Davy Tough. How’re you going to beat that?
I’m ready to throw done at this point and declare without exaggeration that Pete Siers’ Krupa is one of the great jazz albums of the past quarter century. The overall effect is that of a vitamin shot and several deep breaths of fresh night air garnished with black coffee and tiramisu. The ballads are superb, and the upbeat numbers—most of the set—are precisely what the doctor forgot to order. For selection, interpretation, inspiration and sheer musicianship, what the Pete Siers Trio has given us here is an exceptionally wonderful offering. I’m fully convinced that Mr. Krupa would be pleased, proud and thankful.
arwulf arwulf - august 2013