Album reviews

Alyn Shipton’s New Orleans Friends – ‘In Concert’

Alyn Shipton’s New Orleans Friends – In Concert
(The Last Music Company
, BCLB 002. Review by Leonard Weinreich)

Jazz, as we know it, first surfaced in New Orleans, a city unique in its country. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina apart, the city has always been a byword for sensuousness represented by an extravagant cuisine, lacy ironwork and a particularly raffish attitude to life (you don’t pick up a description like the ‘Big Easy’ for nothing).

The semi-tropical climate of the Gulf also helps, particularly the unforgettable magic of jazz sounds floating weightlessly on the heavy, humid air.

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Attempting to reproduce the experience for a Swiss music festival audience in 2018, drummer Emile Martyn assembled the New Orleans Friends, imposing two rigorous criteria in the selection of personnel: the first being time spent in the Crescent City and the second, musical instruction absorbed from local jazz pioneers.

During the following year, the outfit was reconstituted by bassist, historian and distinguished broadcaster Alyn Shipton to mark the 65th anniversary of the legendary ‘Jazz at Vespers’, by revisiting the repertoire of the concert by veteran New Orleans’ jazz clarinettist, George Lewis and his Ragtime Band.

In his time, Lewis influenced the finger patterns of a multitude of clarinet players and Adrian Cox’s pirouetting style conjures the master’s spirit, vibrato and luscious tone (witness his valiant swoops through the registers on Precious Lord and interplay with brassy trumpeter Finlay Milne). On this date, faithfully recorded live at Dean Street’s Pizza Express (you can almost smell the pepperoni), Richard Simmons – who’d accompanied George Lewis on his 1960s UK tours, along with Emile’s dad, drummer Barry Martyn – played piano.

Considering Lewis’ background with the celebrated Olympia and Eureka marching organisations (crucibles that shaped jazz), many of the songs are New Orleans’ parade band classics: Just A Little While To Stay Here; Precious Lord; We Shall Walk Through The Streets Of The City; Just A Closer Walk With Thee and The Old Rugged Cross. Fundamentally, this is outdoor music and, although extrovert in performance, the delicacy, cadences and timbre of New Orleans jazz are preserved through sensitive dynamic control, relaxed choice of tempi and lilting rhythms (hear Emile Martyn‘s skilful drumming on The Streets Of The City). And, even though its origins were spiritual, Just A Closer Walk With Thee works up a powerfully secular head of swing. Given the current fashion of deep introspection, it’s a treat to hear Shipton and friends pay due diligence and respect to the inherent values of New Orleans’ music while enjoying a damn good time.

Short of jetting to the Big Easy, this album is a highly pleasurable way of soaking up jazz heritage.

In Concert is released on 29 April 2022.

Line-up: Finlay Milne, trumpet; Adrian Cox, clarinet; Richard Simmons, piano; Simon Picton, banjo; Alyn Shipton, bass; Emile Martyn, drums.

LINK: In Concert at Proper Music

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