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"This Album's for You": One Hour Tonight.

The MHS Review 408, VOL. 12, NO.12• 1988

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Spencer C. Bennett


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Amidst life's clutter I have two posses­sions which reveal the quality and iden­tity of individual workmanship. One is a cedar-strip canoe with boards so thin you can see light through them. This, the product of an eccentric Scotch-Irish Canadian from Trout Creek, Ontario, is built on a racing scull model and, at 14 feet long, weighs only 44 pounds. The other is a country cupboard commis­sioned by my great-grandfather after the Civil War from an anonymous carpenter (not for dishes but for his clothes, in an era when closets were a luxury). For years this immense piece of furniture sat in my grandmother's leaky garage, covered with a smear of mahogany var­nish and holding old paint cans and ob­solete tire irons. It turned out to be cherry with the original pencil marks at the wood cuts; it now sits in our bedroom serving its original purpose. Neither the canoe nor the cupboard can be mistaken for anything less than the handiwork of individual craftsmen. The design and execution of both bear the marks of a single person's ideas.

There are small groups in the history of jazz whose distinctive sound and cohesiveness parallel the quality of that handiwork, in an age when concern over the finished product is rare. And in music, as in art, we grow in our recognition of such quality. I remember as a preteen-ager hearing the original Ar­tie Shaw Gramercy Five over a local radio station in Montgomery, Alabama. I was immediately struck by the rock bottom solidarity of beat and tempo and was riveted by the tight stringy sound of the harpsichord as part of the ensem­ble, while Shaw soared above it all with his clarinet. Nothing ever came close to that first impression of Summit Ridge Drive. (I have looked in vain for years for the reissue of these originals.) In col­lege it was the Benny Goodman Sextet that compelled play after play. The technical proficiency of Goodman's group roared on like a well-oiled machine, while the single line solos of guitarist Charlie Christian gave these recordings a maddening power.

Here we have the case of Kenny Davern. I have no illusions that this group will set the world of jazz on fire as did the above two; there is too much diversity in the music now for that. But this group functions in the tradition of the best of small-group jazz from the swing and bop period. Davern himself is a marvelous clarinet stylist whose ideas and articulation of themes is so complete that you can actually hum his solos after him. I have a hard time plac­ing him (he is a discovery for me like my great-grandfather's cupboard): he has the smoothness of a Goodman and the range of a Pee Wee Russell, but he has this lingering whispy kind of phrasing that reminds me of the bop clarinetist (whatever happened to him?) Buddy De Franco. The group is so firm in its play­ing, so buoyed up in each other's presence, as in the counterplay between guitar and Davern in "On with the Dance," that the pleasure is infectious.

But it is again experience and creativi­ty that pays off here. The variety of selections and their arrangement on this album is especially tasteful. "Elsa's Dream" conjures up the format of the Goodman sextet mentioned above, while "Pee Wee's Blues" ends with choruses of unaccompanied single-line playing that reminds me of the ex­perimental Jimmy Giuffre trio of the ear­ly '60s. The revival of "Comes Love," a tantalizing torcher perfected by Billie Holiday (Verve Silver Collection), is a particularly appropriate vehicle for this ensemble. For those of you who have hesitated to order jazz from the Socie­ty, because of memories of ''better days," "this album's for you."

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