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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MEMPHIS NIGHTHAWKS

Jazz Lips

Delmark DE 216

 

 


1. Jazz Lips
2. Froggy Moore
3. Some of These Days
4. Changes
5. Margie
6. Don't Forget to Mess Around
7. Shreveport Stomp
8. Tishomingo Blues
9. Papa De-Da-Da
10. Temptation Rag
11. 1919 Rag
12. My Honey's Lovin' Arms
13. Buddy's Habits
14. Beale Street Mama
15. Bugle Boy March
16. Oriental Strut

Ron Dewar - Clarinet, soprano sax, C-melody sax
Steve Jensen - Trumpet
Joel Helleny - Trombone
Mike Miller - Banjo, guitar
Dave Feinman - Bass sax
Bob Kornacher - Drums (tracks 4, 5, 12-16)

 

The Memphis Nighthawks was a band founded by Ron Dewar and Steve Jensen, consisting mainly of students from the University of Illinois' jazz programme. They took their name from a 1932 recording group featuring Darnell Howard, although neither band actually came from Memphis. These recordings were made in 1976 and 1977 in Chicago and are here released on CD for the first time, with the last five tracks being previously unissued.

Although the players were comparatively young when these recordings were made, they capture perfectly the mood of Jelly Roll Morton's era. They clearly had a deep feeling for the music of that time. The tunes make that allegiance clear, using such composers as Morton, Armstrong and Johnny St Cyr. I rather expected this to be a respectful but perhaps amateurish attempt to recapture that old spirit but you have to make no allowances for this band. They play not only with skill but also with admirable clarity, polishing up old numbers until they shine brightly. This is not one of those well-meaning but inferior "trad" bands but a group of musicianly young men who appreciate the music enough to perform it with care and love.

The music is given a lift by the use of Dave Feinman's bass saxophone (instead of a tuba or sousaphone) as the basis for the rhythm. This lightness is noticeable on the opening title-track, Jazz Lips, where the traditional front line of trumpet, clarinet and trombone is backed simply by banjo and bass sax. But this lightness of touch doesn't prevent the boys from creating good-time music, as they do on the following Froggy Moore, a Jelly Roll Morton piece which can sound ponderous in other hands but here seems to float along airily.

Some of These Days lasts for over six minutes, which lets most of the players show their paces, with Ron Dewar's growling soprano sax, Joel Helleny's tailgate trombone and the fluent trumpet of Steve Jensen, as well as Dave Feinman's guttural bass sax. Drummer Bob Kornacher comes in to propel Walter Donaldson's complex Changes, with Ron Dewar's sinuous C-melody sax adding to the variety of sounds.

Don't Forget to Mess Around is a gutsy performance and contrasts well with the almost ethereal Shreveport Stomp. Tishomingo Blues has a buoyant bounce which makes me visualise Laurel & Hardy doing some fancy dance steps. Saxophone and trombone blend unusually on Temptation Rag, while 1919 Rag has an old-fashioned feel which conjures up New Orleans in its early heyday. The drums give some of the last five tracks a heavier feel than the feathery lightness of the preceding numbers, although they give Oriental Strut an appropriately Middle-Eastern atmosphere.

The sound quality of the transfer to CD is impeccable and captures the band's clarity to perfection. Even though these recordings were made more than 30 years ago, this album feels far from antique.

Tony Augarde



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