SALUTE TO JELLY ROLL MORTON
(Leisure Jazz Video M-1053)
Wolverine Blues, Winin' Boy Blues, Don't You Leave Me Here, Buddy Bolden's Blues, Milneburg Joys, Black Bottom Stomp, Fingerbreaker, Kansas City Stomps, King Porter Stomp, Someday Sweetheart, The Pearls, Tiajuana, Sweet Substitute, New Orleans Joys, Grandpa's Spells, Panama
The Mississippi Rag
Reviewed by Bob Byler
One can only revisit the past in spirit, but this videotape makes two imaginary trips possible — to the era of Jelly Roll Morton's music and for live jazz by the Dukes of Dixieland in Mahogany Hall, New Orleans.
It's a remarkable production, with a live audience that is responsive but not intrusive, five cameras adeptly positioned in limited space, and sensitive editing to match closeups of players effectively with the music being played.
The mixing of scenes from various camera angles is superb. Viewers see the players from front and rear, right and left, high and low. Long, medium and close-up shots blend fluidly into a mosaic of motion that enhances the impact of the music. Those familiar with Mahogany Hall will marvel that the cameras filmed so freely but are virtually invisible in the final edited videotape. It's like instant replays from a ballgame that add views you can't see from the stands. Band members share musical and visual spotlights when featured on various tunes, and their images and fingertips on the instruments fill the screen.
The performance quality also equals that of the video for the most part. These are the new/old Dukes, three younger and three veteran players separated by about two decades in age brackets. Since late 1990, they have revived the spirit of the band.
They are Richard Taylor, drums and leader; J.B. Scott, cornet; Al Barthlow, trombone; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano; and Everett Link, bass. They are named in credits at the end but are not listed on the tape box. It also lists "Milneburg Joys" as the second tune, but it is the fifth.
Adding Danny Barker on guitar and vocals on the three tunes after "Wolverine Blues" enhances both musical and historic values. He reminisces briefly about his playing with Jelly Roll Morton, including photos and historic film of his era. Two similar segments between tunes are also interesting.
Tunes are well chosen from the stomps, joys and blues for which Morton is renowned. His "Spanish tinge" is heard on "Tiajuana," (Morton's spelling), "New Orleans Joys" and "Panama." McDermott's iano virtuosity is showcased on "Fingerbreaker" and "The Pearls." The band's joyous rhythmic drive is felt throughout. Emphasis is on ensembles, with solos generall short. Laughtlin's soulful clarinet shines on "Sweet Substitute," and Barthlow's full-toned trombone on "Someday Sweetheart." Scott's cornet drives the front line steadily. He plays high and hard on most solos, but offers a tasteful change of pace with muted tones behind Barker's "Buddy Bolden's Blues."
In summary, this is a videotape one can watch repeatedly and keep enjoying. Highly recommended. It also captures the ambiance of a night at Mahogany Hall before the Dukes move to a new and larger club.