Man, Oh Man Overboard! This is Fun!

man-overboard

DOWN IN THE DEEP DEEP BLUE / STEPT-CLARE: Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone. SILVER: Sister Sadie. JOHNSON: Travellin’ All Alone; Me and My Gin. PICON-BOCAGE: New Orleans Wiggle. LIVINGSTON: Imagination. DAVIS-YOUNG-AGER: I Hate Myself. DONALDSON: I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight. KENNY-ELLIS: Carelessly. ELLINGTON: Jubilee Stomp. HIGGINBOTHAM: Good Morning, Heartache. BRAHAM: Limehouse Blues. SPIVEY: Dirty T.B. Blues. MAYER: I Wish I Were Twins. SAMUELS: If My Heart Could Only Talk. WOODS: What a Little Moonlight Could Do / Man Overboard: Thomas Gould, vln; Ewan Bleach, cl; Louisa Jones, voc; Jean-Marie Fagon, gtr; Dave O’Brien, bs. / Champs Hill CHRCD089

Sometimes even I need to take a break from headier, more serious music on both sides of the aisle (classical and jazz) and have a little fun, but for me it’s not rock music or fusion and certainly not ambient jazz or classical. What I like is earlier jazz from the era when the music was meant to be enjoyed as much as understood, the better jazz of the 1920s through the early Bebop Era. And Man Overboard is just that kind of a fun group.

Granted, their improvising skills are locked into an era before Charlie Parker extended his chords to include 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. They even pay little heed to the sophisticated chording that Django Reinhardt and Art Tatum were into in the mid-1930s. But in the end it doesn’t matter all that much because, as I say, they’re a lot of fun to listen to.

The only caveat I have of the band—and I’d just as soon get this out of the way first—is singer Louisa Jones. Despite her American or British-sounding name, English doesn’t appear to be her first language. In fact, I’m not sure she even understands English, because although all the lyrics she sings are in English her pronunciation seems to be somewhere between French and the alien language ET spoke. Were I not familiar with the lyrics of most of these songs, I wouldn’t have a clue what on earth she was supposed to be singing. Just for instance, the words of the opening song, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, emerge “Plis dough took a bowmy won a gone.” I’m guessing that Man Overboard plays fairly often in France, where they don’t seem to care about such niceties, but if you’re trying to sell your discs to British and American audiences, we really do need to understand the lyrics a lot better than that. I’ve had similar complaints about Paula Padilla, the otherwise wonderful lead singer of the Spanish Boswell Sisters tribute group, O Sister!, but compared to Jones, Padilla is an English major. (And yes, I think that’s a fair criticism.)

Other than that, this album—the group’s second—is a lot of fun to listen to. As I said, their improvisations play close to the vest harmonically as well as melodically; as a jazz improvisor, for instance, Gould isn’t quite as interesting as Joe Venuti but he swings infectiously, riding the beat like a zephyr while Fagon pushes him from his guitar. Interestingly, Fagon doesn’t solo but stays a rhythm player, giving solo honors to Gould and clarinetist Ewan Bleach. The latter also swings with a nice relaxed beat, though somewhat less adventurous harmonically than his violin counterpart.

I was remarkably surprised to see Fud Livingston’s tune Imagination on this program. The only other recordings I’ve ever heard of this song were made by Red Nichols bands in 1927 (two different versions, one with only Nichols on cornet and one with two other trumpeters), and neither one includes the lyrics heard here. This was one case where I really wished I could understand Jones because I really wanted to know what the words were, but no such luck, I ended up confused. Still, it’ a fun arrangement of this song and includes the opening verse that Nichols left out.

Other surprises on this disc are the two songs by J.C. Johnson, a songwriter virtually forgotten nowadays, Armand J. Piron’s New Orleans Wiggle, Victoria Spivey’s Dirty T.B. Blues and I Hate Myself for Being Mean to You, a tune I haven’t heard done since The Boswell Sisters and Isham Jones made recordings of it back in the early 1930s. The last-named is credited to Jones as composer, but this is wrong; it was written by Benny Davis, Joe Young and Harry Akst. Here, the opening gets an imaginative rhythmic treatment before the quintet swings into the tune proper. One of the men in the band sings this one (I think it’s Bleach because you can hear Fagon and O’Brien playing in the background), and his diction is far clearer than Jones’.

I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight is given a completely instrumental treatment, with Gould and Bleach playing a really nice chase chorus, and the pair also shine in a wonderful rendition of Duke Ellington’s Jubilee Stomp. Good Morning, Heartache, the old Billie Holiday specialty, was a bit of a problem due to Jones’ bizarre diction, but by and large as the program progressed I found myself just relaxing and enjoying Man Overboard’s performances, and I think you will, too. As I said at the beginning, a fun disc!

—© 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed history of the intersection between classical music and jazz

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2 thoughts on “Man, Oh Man Overboard! This is Fun!

  1. Thanks for another fine review. I end up wanting too listen to everything you review, mainly because not only are you enthusiastic about your subject matter, but you go in-depth, you never give superficial treatment to what you love most. Your reviews are a joy to read, I learn from them and find myself wanting to hear for myself what you review. JAC

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