Album reviews

Charlie Gabriel – ‘Eighty Nine’

Charlie Gabriel – Eighty Nine

(Sub Pop SP1490. Album Review by Adam Sieff)

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Charlie Gabriel is a fourth generation New Orleans jazz musician and the most senior member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He made his professional debut at eleven playing clarinet with the Eureka Brass Band and later depped for his musician father (who was away fighting in World War Two) with such mythical names as T-Boy Remy, Kid Humphrey, Kid Sheik, Kid Shots and Kid Clayton. He learned the tradition from the source.

After moving North, he joined Lionel Hampton’s band at sixteen, and over a lifetime has played with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Nancy Wilson to the Marcus Belgrave Louis Armstrong Tribute Orchestra and his own Gabriel Traditional Swing Band, before joining Preservation Hall in 2006.

Gabriel stopped playing after his brother and only relative Leonard died from Covid last year, and over the following months regularly played chess sitting in the studio kitchen of Ben Jaffe, Preservation Hall’s leader, tuba player and double bassist. After a visit from guitarist Joshua Starkman, Gabriel brought his horn along with him the following day, ‘I was just inspired to try it, to play again. It had been a long time, and a guitar makes me feel free. I do love the sound of a piano, but it takes up a lot of a space, keeps me kind of boxed in.’ The resulting session was the beginnings of Eighty Nine, with producer Jaffe playing double bass, piano and drums, Starkman on guitar with the only additional personnel being Djallo Djakate and Walter Harris playing drums and percussion, and engineer Matt Aguiluz.

The songs they recorded have great significance for Gabriel: ’when I was 11 I remember hearing the great clarinettist Louis Cottrel play Stardust, it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. Whenever I hear that song, I’m transported to that moment, it makes me feel like a kid again’.

Gabriel’s clarinet, tenor saxophone and vocals are full of joy, hope and tradition. The first single, I’m Confessin (That I Love You), a song that has been around for as long as he has, is just wonderful and like the rest of the album, beautifully recorded. The remainder of the repertoire are all jazz standards except for two Jaffe originals, The Darker It Gets and Yellow Moon, which were previously recorded by Preservation Hall in 2013, but sound even better to these ears in their stripped down form here. They sit well alongside Stardust, Chelsea Bridge, Three Little Words, Memories of You and I Get Jealous. But the familiarity of these tunes, the lightness and space in their arrangements only enhance the pleasure, warmth and love this album exudes.

A nice ending…one day over chess in the kitchen, Gabriel told Jaffe about a clarinet he had bought in Paris while on tour with Aretha Franklin in the 60s. The clarinet maker had died in the 90s and a more recent bad repair job had made it unplayable. Jaffe found someone to restore the instrument back to health and this album marks the first time Gabriel recorded with a clarinet for several years.

Charlie Gabriel – at eighty-nine – sounds like he’s just getting started again.

Release Date is 25 February 2022

LINK: Eighty-Nine at Subpop Records

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