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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Crazy Rhythm

Delmark DE 247


1. I Would Do Anything For You
2. On the Alamo
3. I Never Knew
4. Sugar
5. Nobody's Sweetheart
6. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
7. Tin Roof Blues
8. When My Dreamboat Comes Home
9. Nagasaki
10. Angry
11. Sunday
12. Crazy Rhythm
13. Down Where the Sun Goes Down
14. Darktown Strutteres Ball
15. Love Me or Leave Me
16. Big Butter and Egg Man
17. My Honey's Lovin' Arms
Mike Walbridge - Leader, tuba
Kim Cusack - Clarinet, alto sax
Don Stiernberg - Banjo, guitar (tracks 1-8)
Bob Cousins - Drums (tracks 1-8)
Johnny Cooper - Piano (tracks 9-14)
Eddie Lynch - Banjo (tracks 9-17)
Glen Koch - Drums (tracks 9-17)

"Chicago Footwarmers" is a name with a history. It was originally the name of a band formed in 1927 simply to make recordings. The band started as a quartet comprising Natty Dominique, Johnny and Baby Dodds, and Jimmy Blythe. In 1928 the group recorded more tracks as a sextet with the addition of Kid Ory and bassist Bill Johnson, and then with Honore Dutrey replacing Ory. Tuba player Mike Walbridge chose the name Chicago Footwarmers for a new band more than 40 years ago and has led it spasmodically ever since. This CD contains recordings made by the band in 1966 and 1967 for the Blackbird label and another session recorded in 2007 - the latter making up the first eight tracks here.

Mike Walbridge and reedman Kim Cusack are on every track of the CD - and Cusack is a revelation. He supplies clear theme statements and well-constructed solos throughout the album, and is the undoubted star. The other notable soloists are the two banjo players who not only work well as part of the rhythm sections but also add interesting solos which retrieve the banjo from some of the contempt it undeservedly attracts.

Mike Walbridge also plays plenty of tuba solos but they are sometimes marred by the pitching problems caused by tremulousness and the fact that this cumbersome instrument renders it almost impossible to produce a smoothly rhythmic series of notes at any speed except the slowest. As the dominant instrument in the rhythm section, the tuba also forces most of the rhythm into a rather stodgy two-beat style. Nonetheless the band keeps one's interest by its fresh handling of the traditional material that it chooses. This is particularly true of the 2007 quartet sessions, where the work of Cusack and Stiernberg is consistently appealing. For example, hear how Cusack expressively bends notes on the clarinet in I Never Knew, and Stiernberg discreetly blends chords and single-note lines in his solo on Tin Roof Blues.

In some ways I prefer the recent quartet session to the earlier recordings, as the 2007 session is refined chamber jazz while the other tracks are closer to conventional good-time Dixieland music. But banjoist Lynch produces some fine playing on the early sessions, and the sound is rounded out on six tracks by pianist Johnny Cooper, who somehow counteracts the two-beat feel and helps the band to swing more easily. In addition, Mike Walbridge's tuba playing flowed more easily in those younger days.

Apparently Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers advertise themselves as exponents of happy, foot-tapping Dixieland jazz and this album certainly fulfils that promise.

Tony Augarde





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