Krivda and Swing City Rewrite Jazz Classics

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A BRIGHT AND SHINING MOMENT / FURBER-BRAHAM: Limehouse Blues.1,3,5 KRIVDA: Roses.1,3,5 On the Road 2,4,7A Bright and Shining Moment.2,3,6 Easter Blue. 2,3,6 Hangin’ With the Hoosiers.1,3,5 The Good Lady.1,3,5 G. & I. GERSHWIN-HEYWARD: Summertime.2,3,6,7 G. & I. GERSHWIN: The Man I Love.1,3,5 CARMICHAEL: In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.1,3,5 Little Old Lady. The Nearness of You.1,3,5  Two Sleepy People.1,3,5  TIZOL-ELLINGTON: Caravan.1,3,5 McRAE: Dream of Life.1,3,5 ELLINGTON: The Mooche1,3,5 / Ernie Krivda, t-sax & Swing City: Steve Enos, tpt; 1Chris Anderson, 2Gary Carney, tb; Joe Hunter, pno; Lee Bush, gtr; 3Marion Hayden, 4Bryan Thomas, bs; 5John Bacon, 6Rick Porrello, 7Ray Porrello, dm; 8Marshall Baxter Beckley, voc / Capri Records (no number)

 Tenor saxist Ernie Krivda is a veteran with nearly a half-century of professional experience behind him, his most memorable gig coming in 1970-75 when he led the house bands at Cleveland’s “Smiling Dog Saloon.” Despite the cheesy name of this (cough, cough) establishment, it turns out that Krivda and his musicians were the opening act for some of the biggest names in jazz, thus he got to hear Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Stan Getz, Elvin Jones, Eddie Harris, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Stitt, Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball Adderley, etc. etc. Even if your opinion of Hancock and Jarrett is as low as mine is (great technicians who basically say nothing), it’s still an impressive array of star names. Krivda never forgot one comment by Getz that you could read all the books on music, attend a million lectures etc., but if you don’t play with people who are better than you, you’ll never grow.

In these recording sessions from 1998 to 2002, Krivda jams with some of the peppiest and most original jazz players I’ve heard in a long time, but none better than the leader himself. His tenor style is wholly unique: he plays in staccato notes, improvising almost as if he were a percussionist playing the vibes or marimba rather than a reed instrument. I was also knocked out by his arranging abilities; even a tune as old and hoary as Limehouse Blues takes on new life in his chart, which almost sounds like the kind of things that Shorty Rogers wrote for Stan Kenton back in the 1950s, yet with a few new twists. Trumpeter Steve Enos, who plays in a surprisingly similar staccato style (try saying that four times real fast!), almost like Max Kaminsky in his prime, is shown to good advantage on Krivda’s lovely original tune, Roses, which sounded to me a good deal like the kind of original tunes Kaminsky played with Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra back around 1939-41. Come to think of it, Krivda’s own playing also includes some elements of Freeman, albeit mixed with a generous portion of Stan Getz and, yes, a little Sonny Stitt. He learned his lessons well.

His arrangement of Summertime moves the tune far away from its “slow and easy” tempo; this one is uptempo and strongly accented, featuring a powerful blues-shouting vocal by one Marshall Baxter Beckley. Back to a Krivda original, On the Road is a relaxed piece in a loping beat, alternating dotted-eighth-with-sixteenth and triplet figures played by the bass. Again, one notes his proclivity for actually writing melodies and not just “vamp head tunes,” as too many musicians nowadays do. Pianist Joe Hunter plays a relaxed, sparse solo on this one, rolling triplets behind the band’s vamps in the following chorus. A Bright and Shining Moment sounds the most like an old swing tune, really uptempo with some Gene Krupa-like tomtoms in the opening. Krivda really cooks on this one, showing off his staccato virtuosity with aplomb. I didn’t much like the bass solo, though: an electric instrument (which doesn’t fit this style) played with a really “cheap” tone and predictable licks.

The Gershwins’ nice but rather done-to-death ballad, The Man I Love, is given a nice treatment if somewhat less innovative as some of the preceding tracks. It starts in ballad tempo but quickly moves into double time. You could almost see that coming, but at least the solos are good, particularly Krivda’s gutsy playing. I particularly liked the ensemble passage following his solo where the melodic line is rewritten as a background vamp. We return to the slower tempo for the rideout.

Hoagy Carmichael’s famous, rather “gaga” song, In the Cool. Cool, Cool of the Evening is given a nice treatment, again sounding a bit like Shorty Rogers, but here more like his Giants than like the more complex charts he wrote for Kenton. The staccato brass chords behind the first four mars of Krivda’s solo were a nice touch. On the ballad Easter Blue, Krivda surprisingly sounds a bit more like Coleman Hawkins than Freeman and Gary Carney plays a nice trombone chorus. The Tizol-Ellington Caravan gets more of an uptempo than a Middle Eastern treatment, again with pounding tom-toms leading the charge. Krivda is at his staccato best on this one. On Carmichael’s Little Old Lady, bassist Hayden is off-pitch—some notes sharp, others flat. The arrangement throws in a lick from Jeepers Creepers as a bridge. Carmen McRae’s Dream of Life was, for me, one of the few disappointments of this CD, a “nothing” tune played in a drab arrangement, although Anderson’s trombone solo is excellent and the leader pretty good as well.

Hangin’ With the Hoosiers, a contrafact of Indiana, moves rather stiffly at first but soon picks up momentum and inventive solos. On this track, Hayden’s solo is excellent, as is Krivda’s and the writing. I was rather surprised to hear Ellington’s The Mooche, a tune dating back to his “jungle band” days of the late 1920s. Krivda and Swing City miss the funkiness of the beat somewhat—John Bacon plays the kind of rolling triplets on snare drum that one associates more closely with Jelly Roll Morton’s “stomp” rhythm than the funky, syncopated woodblocks that Sony Greer played with Ellington—but it’s still nice to hear. The Nearness of You is taken very close to its original ballad tempo as recorded by Glenn Miller, but there’s more of a jazz kick to the proceedings. The tom-toms return for the opening of The Good Lady which, although an original, is another contrafact, this time on Oh, Lady Be Good with a lick from A-Tisket, A-Tasket thrown in for good luck. We wrap up the set with a very creative arrangement of Two Sleepy People, featuring Krivda’s tenor playing the melody along with the bass two octaves lower.

In toto, an interesting and creative take on the swing era, surely much better than the pathetic-sounding “swing” band of banjoist Glenn Crytzer. Krivda learned his lessons well.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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