Ralph Carney is more than merely a multi-instrumentalist (sax, clarinet, harmonica, and banjo). His muse is a sort of nail soup which has kept this artist’s artist body of work compelling and diverse. His new album Ralph Carney’s Serious Jass Project is a sort of paean to the era of juke joints, rent parties and (friendly) cutting contests at The Apollo.
The album is made up with the exception of the last track entirely of covers. “Blue Creek Hop” is from tough Texas tenor Buddy Tate. Like most of the Texas Tenors’ (Arnett Cobb, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Illinois Jacquet et al) pieces and many to be found on this album, the song is in the jump blues vein. Jump Blues, while technically the blues, straddled the line between blues and jazz, taking if not always (big band) jazz’s complex charts then the intricacies of their soloist’s statements while also encompassing the catharsis, joyous or sad which is such an integral part of the blues. The song has a raucous air of celebration about it, a parade of honking tenor bar walkers happily singing for their supper as dancers take to the floor. The band has an overall tight but loose approach to execution which makes for it never feeling like a sort of nostalgic covers album.
“Echoes of Harlem” is by Duke Ellington. It starts with a sort of see-saw piano figure. It is the blues as played after hours by cats who worked the supper club circuit. There occurs the sensation of standing still but swaying at the hips; as to peripherally be able to see back to another era. The purr of the alto (sax) is the blue come hither of the night. The baritone sax and muted “wah” of the trumpet are the background noises, the ordering of drinks, trying out lines of seduction, that leak into one’s existence when out for the evening.
“Gypsy Without a Song” is another Ellington penned piece. It starts off beautiful and near delicate with the clarinet leading the way. It is the alluring woman you get to dance with but whose name is lost to the undulating ambient noise of the crowd, everything else about her being recalled later at a predawn diner over coffee for one. Throughout the piece, the woody notes of the clarinet are all the burnished amber of bourbon had before being able to cross the floor to where she stood. Its romance and the blues; one always eventually following the other, sour making the sweet all the more so.
“Linger Awhile” begins with a stuttered piano calliope. There is a Nino Rota feel to it, the circus atmosphere with Giulietta Masina in her blue striped Picasso shirt and grease painted face reiterated by both the whistles at the song’s start and the overall sort of dancing rhythmic figures.
The sound throughout is pristine. The band is clearly having fun but there are no sonic short hands in their execution. The album’s overall effect is that of what occurs when a thinking fella gets the blues but wants to dance. It makes a great addition to the oeuvre of Ralph’s eclectic Americana
Ralph Carney: bass, baritone tenor, c-melody, alto and soprano saxophones, b-flat and bass clarinets, flute, trumpet, English horn, lap steel guitar, vocals.
Randy Odell: drums
Ari Munkres: bass
Michael Mcintosh: keyboards, vocal feature on Pompton Turnpike
Karina Denike vocals on Carnival in Caroline & Linger Awhile
Mike Groh: guitar on Blue Creek Hop, Linger Awhile and Carnival in Caroline
**This article is not to be reproduced or used without expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler.