The Jazz Rag Album Reviews

July Reviews

THE FRENCH PRESERVATION NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND

Alive and Kicking in Europe

Upbeat Jazz URCD 299D, 2 CDs, 76.00/76/00

Upbeat Records continue to keep alive the recordings of the late Big Bill Bissonnette’s Jazz Crusade label. This double CD first appeared 15 years ago as Jumpin’ at Irigny (where this live session was recorded in 2003) and the present re-naming seems rather odd in view of Big Bill’s passing two years ago. Bill and cornetist Fred Vigorito guest with the French Preservation New Orleans Jazz Band which consists of saxist Jean-Pierre Alessi and rhythm, thereby giving the lie to all those New Orleans ‘purists’ who think saxophones are the work of the devil. This is authentic New Orleans jazz and not a clarinet in sight, Alessi even doing the honours – very nicely, thank you – on Burgundy Street Blues.

Alessi is an interesting, uncomplicated player whose melody statements can have a four-square dance band feel before he boots into driving, rhythmic solos, often with more than a touch of rhythm and blues. The note refers to Emanuel Paul as his guru, but there are echoes of Captain John Handy, too. Fred Vigorito varies strong lead with delicate touches and freakish effects and Big Bill’s burry-toned tailgate has its sentimentally melodic moments. Henry Lemaire on banjo (habitues of Mike Durham’s Jazz Party know him as a bass player) and Joel Gregoriades on bass combine splendidly and, with drummer Clody Gratiot, really kick on in uptempo numbers such as Get Out of Here.

Like so many New Orleans bands the eclectic repertoire appeals. After a none too promising start with a raucous Washington & Lee Swing (banjo over-recorded, though generally the ‘live’ sound is pretty good) things settle nicely with an unexpectedly lively version of Brahms’ Cradle Song and a delightful Lavender Blue at that typical lilting slow-medium tempo. So we go on, old warhorses such as Bugle Boy March and Panama alongside obscurities (Love Songs of the Nile) and such swing era favourites as Moonglow and Marie which starts out as a ringing banjo solo before turning into an uninhibited romp.

RON SIMPSON