Blue Valentines: Retta Christie with David Evans and Dave Frishberg Volume 2

Jim Goodwin’s (1944-2009) life would make a great movie. While it would not feature any defining moment apparent to the viewer and required in bio-films, it would be episodic; full of ups and downs but always interesting.
The usual blessing and curse conferred upon interesting characters when describing them, Jim was a “Musician’s musician”. He was known primarily for his coronet playing, inspired by Wild Bill Davison (1906-1989) and Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931) but he could also play piano, drums and vibraphone.
Jim was a self taught virtuoso, never wanting to formally study for fear of losing some of the power which came from the freedom and spontaneity of his creative process. Freedom was a reoccurring motif echoing throughout all aspects of Jim’s life.
Initially he studied to be a stock broker in New York after a youth of being a “board boy” for his father’s brokerage firm. Rapidly he lost interest in the financial world, often saying he was the nation’s “Youngest broker and youngest retired stockbroker.”
He served in the National Guard where he was able to play both horns and drums in the band. Jim would find himself stationed at Fort Ord (Monterey, CA) which allowed him to take in the San Francisco jazz scene, then a still fertile scene with the streets bristling with legendary jazz clubs. In his time in the Bay Area he managed to probably play every club and venue including the Fairmont Hotel where decades earlier Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) band leader of Jim’s hero Bix had a long residency. Perhaps one of the more unique accomplishments for a jazz artist also occurred while Jim was living in the Bay Area, going to the world series three times with the Oakland A’s as a member of their pep-band. Athletic and a baseball player himself in high school, being connected to the World Series had meaning to him on several levels.
Jim would spend a lot of time in Europe where, like a lot of earlier jazz greats, he was better known and appreciated. Lack of big name fame never seemed to bother him as it allowed him to create and live the way he wanted; with no pressures to conform or compromise.
Eventually after a stint living in Brownsmead, Or Jim would come to roost in Portland which still has a small but vibrant music scene. With some friends he would start a micro brewing company (Portland Brewing Company) right as the trend of micro brew beers was taking off. He would sell back his controlling shares in the company as to not be tied down but still regularly played the company’s Flanders Street pub, often in duets with David Frishberg
Jim was a great mentor and friend to many musicians. Retta Chrisite’s new album, volume two of collaboration with David Evans and Frishberg, is a sort of valentine to him. Most of the program is made up of songs she was taught by him or played with him. Although somewhat of a memorial, this album offers up a sort of blue tinged wistfulness in lieu of any black cloth draped melancholy.
The album is comprised of all covers which, like the ensembles last outing, mix components of country swing, early jazz and blues in varying degrees. “I Get the Blues When It rains” begins with a few seconds of Retta’s vocals unaccompanied. This emphasizes the intimacy to be found on every track which helps the music better resonate for the listener and allows for repeated listenings without loss of artistic tension. David Evan’s sax here has the Lester Young (1909-1959) Kansas City era cadence. One of David’s strengths has been that his talent does not lie in mere mimicracy; he can go beyond quoting, saying only what Prez said. He can uncannily sound just like him but the verbiage is always his own. In bell like tones, Dave Frishberg’s piano bubbles up, happy to be sad.
“Foolin Myself” as done by this trio is taken at a brisker pace than has become the norm. Retta plays brush (drums) which once again serve as an adept dance partner adding a further sonic layer to the piece. The piano has a full sound which results in a sort of stateliness. Once again the whole ensemble shows how some of their power is derived from an overall organicness in how they respond to each other and the songs.
“My Mother’s Eyes” which is a standard now largely fallen by the wayside, has potential to be given an overly maudlin read. Here is it used as a launching point for the ensemble to reiterate how much fun they are having and the resulting interplay. The song features David offering a brief but great woody toned clarinet break sounding like a cheery Mourning Dove singing its song.
“Old Folks” has some strideish piano which has a sprite like aspect due to the bluesy suppleness of execution. On this piece as in a lot of material Retta covers, the lyrics are clever without being overly precocious. The lyrics often make me lament the loss of Tin Pan Alley, which is most likely all condos now. There is a delicate sax solo, an ethereal presence floating through the piece and offering the beauty of fragility.
“ ‘Neath the Purple on the Hills” is country swing draped in a night of the blues. If only we could all feel sad in this way. When Retta sings a piece which leans more towards the country swing side of things one realizes she has perfect diction, a clarion tone and technique; yet always restraint enough to never over gild the lily.
The album clocks in at a little under forty minutes with pristine sound and liner notes by Doug Ramsey.
Although no nostalgia trip, this album offers a glimpse of when populist elements in music could be both entertainment and art. One component of art in all mediums for the audience is the totem of what we make of it while experiencing it, after upon reflecting back too. The album is small but in an intimate way not in scope of power. The artists as heard here make one reflect on fame; wishing it were not so directly tied in with how well an artist is known but in how well they serve their muse. Like the music itself, perhaps these reflections serve as a fitting tribute to a departed artist.

Retta Christie: vocals/brushes
David Evans: clarinet/saxophone
Dave Frishberg: Piano

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