by Bill Harris
In boxing, everything works off the jab; in jazz, it is rhythm that sets you up for the heavy and flashy stuff to follow. From the opening fanfare on Live: Gabriel’s New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band, the music comes out dancing with a streetwise, high-kicking rhythmic strut, announcing the joyous intentions of this septet of Motor City musicians. They call themselves a traditional New Orleans jazz band, but they’re more than their self-description implies. And part of the fun of this CD (recorded live at the WDET studios) is the diversity — ranging from syncopated, improvisational music that evolved during the years either side of the turn of the last century, up to and through the post-swing era. As wags and sages have declaimed, all music shakes out to good or bad and labels be damned.
Charlie Gabriel’s group, a living democracy in which each man’s voice and contribution is equal to every other, presents traditional three-part horn harmonies and collective improvisations. The results are as intricate and as esthetically pleasing as the warp and woof of a Persian carpet’s thread work.
Joining Gabriel (clarinet), Ron Kischuk (trombone), Dan Pliskow (bass), Leonard Chapital (drums) and Larry Gabriel (banjo) are Marcus Belgrave and Kenn Cox, two of Detroit’s finest. They come with credentials and portfolios that permit them to cross all borders and gain entrance to any session where real music is to be made. Their technical abilities and big ears allow them to adjust their modernist game and run with the swift in this tradition that predates their usual environs. Cox, on a piano with authentic honky-tonk-like tuning, exhibits a man for all season’s range. Belgrave, on trumpet, shouts, whispers, growls, slurs and even sings, conjuring everybody from Papa Celestin to Tricky Sam Nanton to Pops Armstrong.
The repertoire is a sampling of infectious rhythms, from teasing slow drags full of spirit to reverent restrained blues and multipurpose, multifunctional free-flowing arrangements, and all as much fun as the romp and tumble of puppies in a box.
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