THE DIME NOTES / MORTON: Original Jelly Roll Blues. The Pearls. The Crave. Turtle Twist. HENDERSON-DeSYLVA-GREEN: Alabamy Bound. BECHET: Black Stick Blues. Si Tu Vois Ma Mère. What a Dream. HANDY: Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues. Ole Miss. SENTER: T’ain’t Clean. A. OLIVER: Otis Stomp. SCHAFER-MACK-BRYMM: The Camel Walk. LEWIS-WENDING-MEYER: I Believe in Miracles / The Dime Notes: David Horniblow, cl; Andrew Oliver, pno; David Kelbie, gtr; Louis Thomas, bs / Frémeaux & Associés FA 8553
The Dime Notes are a trad-jazz quartet that more or less grew out of the Chris Barber band (amazing that his career lasted so long!). This was my first chance to hear them.
Two things I really appreciated: 1) they use a guitar instead of a banjo, and 2) they use a string bass instead of a tuba. This helps a lot to reduce the feeling that you’re listening to music so old that the whiskers have whiskers on them. But there is a third factor that really won me over, and that is that they somehow manage to truly capture the feeling and rhythm of the old bands. They are looser and therefore better than the Barber band in this respect.
Pianist Andrew Oliver, the lone American in the group, is particularly fine in this respect. Like Jelly Roll Morton, he improvises on the melody and not on the chords, which is the old style personified, and like Morton, he plays original improvisations that do not just copy the originals. I also liked British clarinetist David Horniblow, whose tone is rich and full like those of Omer Simeon and Barney Bigard (I wonder if he’s playing an Albert system instrument?) and doesn’t try to sound too much like Benny Goodman, although in Alabamy Bound he does introduce some leanness and bite to his tone that are somewhat reminiscent of the King of Swing (but also of Johnny Dodds, another old-timer and one of Goodman’s idols). The bottom line is that they don’t sound like typical “moldy figs.” In the latter title, we hear bassist Louis Thomas playing tremendously good slap bass in the tradition of Pops Foster or Steve Brown, the two most exceptional of the early New Orleans bassists (the first black, the second white). In Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues, they get a nice, loping beat going, completely relaxed and in the true two-beat tradition.
Another thing they have going for them is that, in many places, the rhythm section plays as a unit. This is not authentic style; listen to the Morton Red Hot Pepper or Armstrong Hot Seven recordings, and you’ll hear a lot more disconnect between the piano, banjo and bass (plus drums, not present here) than the Dime Notes achieve. In Aunt Hagar’s, bassist Thomas also plays a distinctly more modern bass solo, combining bowed and pizzicato lines in a very intriguing manner.
Horniblow brings his own sound and style to Black Stick Blues, virtuosic in its Goodman-like turns and trills but not really trying to sound like Sidney Bechet (very little high-register theatrics and no “French vibrato” in his tone). In the middle section of the first chorus, and a bit later, the rhythm section, again playing as a unit, abandon the old two-beat style for a four-to-the-bar swing rhythm, which I liked very much. The Pearls brings us back to Morton and the old New Orleans two-beat, again played smoothly and without affectation. Oliver’s playing is not quite as forceful or dramatic as Morton’s own, but he makes some interesting statements and is very satisfying. Horniblow revels in his chalumeau register on this one.
Boyd Senter’s Tain’t Clean is one of the few tunes on this album I’d never heard before (the other two were Otis Stomp, written by pianist Oliver, and I Believe in Miracles), and it is a surprisingly lyrical piece taken at a medium tempo. Otis Stomp could easily pass for an old tune in form and beat, albeit a fairly simple one, comprised mostly of little riffs, and again moving into a bit of a swing beat in the middle strain. The rhythm keeps up the swing beat for Oliver’s solo, which again is modeled on the melody and not just the chords, Bob Zurke-style. Bechet’s Si Tu Vois Ma Mere is taken at a very slow ballad tempo that suits its lovely melodic line perfectly. Both Oliver and Thomas take nice, sparse solos. They also play Brymm’s Camel Walk in a nice, peppy style that lacks the stiffness of most trad bands.
Morton’s The Crave is his one Spanish-tinged tune that is not often played nowadays, but to be honest I’ve always liked it better than New Orleans Joys, and the Dime Notes give it the royal treatment, slightly dragging its insinuous melody with deft skill. Horniblow’s solo on this one is particularly excellent, using double-time and some surprising rhythmic shifts and stops. At the end, he shifts into B.G. mode with good effect.
I Believe in Miracles is a nice tune, played here with almost a shuffle beat à la the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. W.C. Handy’s Ole Miss is played in an almost strict ragtime beat, though allowing for improvised solos, something ragtime never did. Oliver’s solo sounds as much like Morton as anything else he plays on this album…Jelly would really be proud of him! Turtle Twist was a perfect choice for this band, considering that Morton’s original recording was also a small-group performance (featuring Bigard on clarinet, if I recall). The Dime Notes take it a bit slower than Morton did, and give the beat a snakier feel. Oliver does his best Morton imitation on this one, although he does not copy any of the master’s licks, but plays his own improvisation.
In the finale, Bechet’s What a Dream, all pretensions to two-beat Dixieland are gone. This is a straightahead swing performance, sounding almost like something Artie Shaw might have played. The quartet does a great job on it, too, driving the music home with style and élan.
No question about it, the Dime Notes are an absolutely terrific trad jazz quartet. A splendid CD.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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