STEPPIN' ON THE GAS
Shotgun Jazz Band
April 4, 2017 — by Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives
I’m late to the party but happy to have been invited. Even without the proper apostrophe, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, the new CD by the Shotgun Jazz Band, is a total delight, a disc I play all the way through and want to rehear immediately.
The Shotgun Jazz Band has been recording for six years now, and their new disc offers the pleasure of richly-textured, solidly-grounded New Orleans jazz. Here they are at The Spotted Cat in April 2016, with Marla Dixon, trumpet; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Tyler “Twerk” Thomson, string bass / vocal; Craig Flory, alto saxophone; Ben Polcer, piano:
This is a 2015 performance that shows their virtues: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147186666 with Marla, John, Charlie, Twerk, and reedman James Evans.
This is a very revealing profile of the band from the “Enjoying Traditional Jazz” blog, written by “a very old guy [from Nottingham, England] who got into traditional jazz late in life, with much to discover, learn and pass on.” The author calls himself “Pops Coffee” and his blog can be found here.
Back to the reason for this post, STEPPIN ON THE GAS, a consistently lively homage to the great songs — fully vitalized in this century — by Marla Dixon, trumpet and vocal; John Dixon, banjo; Charlie Halloran, “trampagne”; James Evans, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, vocal; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Twerk Thomson, string bass / vocal; and guests Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, alto saxophone / clarinet. The Shotgun ensemble is its own pleasure (beautifully recorded at Luthjen’s Dance Hall, utilizing the acoustics of that space, without an audience, so that we hear subtle shadings and bold statements). Special plaudits go to Earl Scioneaux III for engineering and mixing and to Bruce Barielle for mastering the disc.
The songs are GULF COAST BLUES*; WHITE GHOST SHIVERS; HOW AM I TO KNOW? (James, vocal); SHE’S CRYING FOR ME; MOONLIGHT BAY*; SMILES; I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU*; DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE* and band vocal; WHENEVER YOU’RE LONESOME*; ROSE OF BOMBAY; BREEZE*; CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART*; OLE MISS RAG; PRETEND*; MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME (Twerk / band vocal); GUILTY* (not the Al Bowlly ballad); STEPPIN ON THE GAS; DEEP RIVER. The asterisks are for the tracks Marla sings on, and she is such a varied singer — tender or raucous — that I never got weary of her voice.
The pleasures start immediately with GULF COAST BLUES –David Boeddinghaus, sounding like a modern James P. Johnson alongside Marla Dixon’s powerful but understated blues singing; then James Evans adds his emotive, conversational alto saxophone and Twerk his beautifully centered string bass (a gutty yet swinging accompaniment that — heretically perhaps — is the ideal world that Bessie Smith rarely got to experience on records) . . . to James’ exquisite vocal on HOW AM I TO KNOW (which Louis performed on his first European tour!); a performance of ON MOONLIGHT BAY (one of those songs that hits me in some deep nostalgic part of my being, as does SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON) that lingers over the verse and then turns the second chorus into a shouting near-blues; a very fast, rollicking SMILES (with a stomping Boeddinghaus solo). . . I could go on, but I will leave the rest of the delights for the listeners.
The disc shows off beautiful vocalized instrumental solos, neither timid nor rough, shifting ensembles (this is neither a “recorded jam session” nor a banquet of recreations, but a comfortable middle ground) — where the lead moves around within the band, and instruments pair off in ways we might not expect: subtle harmonic depths, and an unfailing swing. Nothing more to ask for!
The six selections with an expanded front line: WHITE GHOST SHIVERS, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME, DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, OLE MISS RAG, GUILTY, STEPPIN ON THE GAS — adding Ben Polcer, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and alto saxophone — are extraordinary examples of ensemble playing that borders on the ecstatic while being expertly under control — a paradox when seen on the page, but completely understandable when heard.
If someone asks you what hot jazz sounds like in this century, or tells you that New Orleans jazz no longer exists, or that swing is a dying phenomenon — play that misguided soul STEPPIN ON THE GAS. I would.