Back-porch New Orleans


Burke-Wiggs Big 4 (American Music)

It’s taken a couple of decades to get there, but these days I can boast a rather tidy and useful collection of vintage jazz with New Orleans breeding, running from the early commercial recordings made in the Crescent City, Chicago and elsewhere through to the New Orleans revival and beyond.

And about a quarter of that music is contained, I reckon, on albums sourced from labels in the George Buck stable – GHB, Jazzology, Solo Art and (mostly) American Music.

Aside from a few sideman appearances, what I haven’t had – until now – are any releases on which cornet player Johnny Wiggs is front, centre or even slightly prominent.

That’s certainly not the case with clarinet man Raymond Burke.

I have a good handful of albums that have his name on the covers, even if – as ever with this type of music – there’s almost always a collegiate vibe going on.

I was and am drawn to his playing because of its woody, relaxed beauty – and as contrast to the likes of George Lewis.

So when I heard about this double disc of low-key New Orleans jazz sessions from the 1950s, I had to have it.

Through 40+ tracks, this is wonderful stuff and just the ticket when New Orleans jazz is the need but a full brass line-up is more than is needed.

There’s various configuarations, but most tracks find Wiggs and Burke backed simply by Edmond Souchon on guitar and Sherwood Mangiapane on bass (pianist Art Hodes also appears on a few tracks).

There’s not a lot of this sort of relaxed, back-porch New Orleans jazz around.

Well, not of this vintage or earlier anyway – truth is, there’s still plenty of it to be had in and around in New Orleans.

The 6&7/8 String Band – which can also be found on American Music and also has Souchon on board – is one of the very few recorded examples of the nigh on forgotten New Orleans string band tradition.

Burke himself released an album on 504 of late 1970s recordings with just clarinet, Cie Frazier on drums and Butch Thompson on piano.

(The famous sides recorded by Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier in 1940 for HRS with just bass and drums are quite different, a bit more formal and strident.)

Anyone even a little familiar with the American Music milieu will be unsurprised to learn that, especially spread across two discs, both the playing and the sound levels get a bit wobbly at times.

Plenty of expected warhorses here – Old Grey Bonnet, Milenburg Joys, Darktown Strutters Ball, Chinatown, Sister Kate and Just A Little While To Stay Here all make an appearance.

But there’s plenty of material that is less familiar, too.

A surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed some of the crusty, bluesy vocals from Souchon and Mangiapane – think Jack Teagarden.

I had half hoped that after living with this stuff for a month, I’d be happy to pronounce “masterpiece”.

Well, nope.

Not yet.

But I’m awfully glad it’s in my life.


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