'THE COPE STREET PARADE VOLUME ONE' OUT NOW
Review by John Clare
Okay, I’m offering $50,000 prize money for the person who can guess when it was that I first knowingly heard jazz, and who it was that I heard. You probably wouldn’t be all that surprised to learn that it was in the late 1940s, or that it was Louis Armstrong on the radio singing pop songs of the time, along with very old and perhaps unlikely favourites (many of these magnificently played and sung, e.g. La Vie en Rose) and some jazz war horses from or about New Orleans.
Oh, sorry about the prize money.
Admittedly I was only vaguely aware that it was jazz, but the trumpet solos that crowned most of these recordings had a profound effect on me. Soon I heard what buffs would insist was the real thing, vis a vis jazz, and by then I had begun to realise that here was a tradition that went back to the turn of the 20th century with primordial intimations in the late 19th, and that by my childhood it had already been through a number of stylistic changes. To my surprise, young musicians were still playing the ‘real thing’ in its early forms in my middle age, and they still are. Melburnians of this persuasion include The Hoodangers (who have enjoyed periods of significant popularity) and those associated with them; and here in Sydney we have the musicians on this disc. As with the Hoodangers they are part of fairly intense associations, though some have moved into more modern fields but often return to the fold for certain projects.
There are two levels moving here. The singing is corny – deliberately so – signalling that this is not to be taken too seriously, that it is fun rather than ultra serious art. But this barely masks a deep love. These quite young musicians are students of this music. They love it. They do take it seriously, but authenticity is attained by appearing not to take it seriously. Certainly by not taking yourself too seriously. Corny, yes, but also inventive and often very funny, with exaggerated elements of early crooning as well as the raucous exuberances of early jazz and jump band singing. Crooning is an element of Justin Fermino’s tenor playing too; also jittery, barking, growling effusions that are both humorous and exciting. But he can also produce classic, beautifully constructed solos in a compact and powerful tenor tone.
While tangos and other exotic rhythms appeared in early jazz, a simple hustling binary syncopation is common. It sounds like sschasschasscha, specially when, as here, there are guitars and bass but often no drums. There is also a barely accented beat that sounds like an intent one and one and one and one – in fact it is usually four but that is the feeling. It is the primal essence of rhythm and time, almost sub-binary. Some of it tromps and bounces, and sometimes each beat is barely touched so it flies high along a line of ticking time. Among many delights is a an effortless flair of collective improvisation when a larger ensemble appears. On this disk there is a quartet of the inner association: saxophone and clarinet player Justin Fermino – who does most of the singing – manouche guitar and tenor banjo player and often hilarious vocal exponent Ben Panucci, trombone, dobro and sousaphone adept Grant Arthur and Aaron Flower on manouche guitar and resonator guitar.
Flower is perhaps better known for his brilliant playing in more modern styles, including jazz, rock and even elements of surf music. Panucci has also taken his guitar into more contemporary regions with distinct originality. An element of Django Reinhardt is present in Panucci’s guitar, and of course gypsy jazz is part of this ensemble’s piquant melange.
Other guests can be heard on the large ensemble tracks. The large ensemble is actually the Basement Big Band. The superb modern and even avant garde drummer Fin Ryan (the noble Finbar) is one. Likewise alto saxophonist (also C melody and clarinet) Peter Farrer, Melbourne trumpeter Eamon McNelis also appears on two tracks. At times his beautiful clear tone reminds me of one of my all time favourites, Harold ‘Shorty’ Baker, who served three stints with the Duke Ellington band. The veteran – the master I should say – Bob Henderson plays trumpet with a singular grandeur, his tone both shining and stentorian. He also sings with an easy elegance. Judy Bailey plays a brief and magical piano solo. She is in superb form.
I heard the quartet from this disc win over a young and pretty sophisticated audience at Peter Rechniewsky’s new jazz club The Foundry 616.