Cadence Magazine (July 1st 2010)

Carl SpenserBeginning more than forty years ago, UK trum­peter and bandleader Carl Spencer made a thorough study of Jazz performance from the earliest recordings to the middle Thirties—and he put the results of his study into swinging practice. The results are audible on five CDs, col­lectively issued under the heading JAZZ MAGIC (The Point 2061). SHOUTING IN SARATOGA includes: My Sweet Tooth Says I Wanna / Stomp Time Blues / Angry / Buddy’s Habits / Gonna Get A Girl / Sunday / A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You / Last Night on the Back Porch / Finger Snapper / I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / California Here I Come / The Music Hall - Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can’t Make Love At Home) / Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home / The Mooche / Copenhagen / Perfect Rag / Grace and Beauty / Aunt Hagar’s Blues / Margie / My Prayer / Buddy Bolden’s Blues / Alice Blue Gown / Saratoga Shout. 75:58. FLYING HIGH WITH MEADOWLARK contains: Meadowlark / Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down in Dear Old Dixieland / Shake It and Break It / Muskrat Ramble / Ain’t Misbehavin’ / Everybody Loves My Baby / The Eggplant That Ate Chicago / I Found A New Baby / Carolina Shout / China Boy / East St. Louis Toodle-Oo / If You Knew Susie / Pasadena / Someday Sweetheart / I Miss My Swiss / Deep Henderson / Please / Riverboat Medley / Coney Island Washboard / That’s You, Baby / Alabamy Bound / What A Dream / Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble / Djangology / Here Comes The Band / Dr. Jazz. 78:48.

ROCKING THE DICTY BLUES includes: Somebody Stole My Gal / I Ain’t Gonna Tell Nobody / Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue / Susie / You Took Advantage Of Me / Bouncing Around / Dreaming The Hours Away / Shanghai Shuffle / Miss Annabelle Lee / Button Up Your Overcoat / Sweet Emmalina / Harlem Strut / Goose Pimples / City of the Blues / Doin’ the Raccoon / Smashing Thirds / Melancholy Blues / Ape Man Sweet Lovin’ Man / Somebody Loves Me / My Gal Sal / Nuages / Wild Cat Blues / Echoes of Spring / Dicty Blues / Everything Stops For Tea. 79:14. BLAZING IN BORNEO includes: Borneo / Masculine Women, Feminine Men / Nimble Fingered Thimbler / Darktown Strutters’ Ball / Candy Lips / Varsity Rag / I Need Some Pettin’ / Forty and Tight / Second Hand Rose / My Sweetie Went Away / Kansas City Stomp / Lollipops / Beale Street Blues / Forevermore / Ace in the Hole / Mabel’s Dream / Rhythm King / I Had It But It’s All Gone Now / Honky Tonk Blues / Limehouse Blues / Jolson Medley / The Chant. 77:57.

BONUS TRACKS covers recordings from 1964-9: Masculine Women, Feminine Men / Mandy, Make Up Your Mind / Copenhagen / Sorry / A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, And You / Somebody Stole My Gal / Muskrat Ramble / Somebody Stole My Gal / Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue / You Took Advantage Of Me / Sweet Emmalina / I Miss My Swiss / Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home / Dinah / Take Your Girlie To The Movies / Victoria and Albert Museum / East St. Louis Toodle-Oo / Dicty Blues / Dreaming The Hours Away / Shanghai Shuffle / Someday Sweetheart / The Crave / Good Morning, What A Night - What A Dream / Pimlico / Ordinary People. 73:07.

Collective personnel: Spencer, Sean Bolan, cnt; Ian Hattersley, tpt; Brian Hills, Malcom Everson, Frank Fennell, Barry Graham, Don Weller, Clare Murphy, Nik Payton, Zolton Zagi, Mac White, Bob Kerr, Dave Harding, Claus Jacobi, Trevor Whiting, rds; Ray Wordsworth, Pete Kendal, Bob Hunt, Paul Godden, tbn; Neville Dickie, Martin Litton, Henry Davies, Keith Nichols, Raina Reid, Colin Goode, Stan Hayward, Dave Glasson, Bert Lamb, Mike Parle, p; Dave Wright, Gus Gander, Malcolm Sked, Ian Hills, Pete Cooper, Melt Kingston, Dave Wright, sousaphone; Roger Graham, Grahan Read, tba; Spats Langham, Keith Stevens, Mike Perle, Chris Eady, Charlie Smart, bjo, g; Ray Lewitt, Bill Shortt, Debbie Arthurs, Bernie Mandry, Mick Panter, Tim Phillips, John Tanner, pc; Barry Dunning, Bill Oddie, Jean Hart, Jackie Knight, vcl.

I had not heard of Spencer’s Nighthawks Orchestra until I encountered them in performance on YouTube and was greatly impressed. He began in 1964 with his Washboard Kings, who had four hit singles, all included in this set: “Masculine Women, Feminine Men,” “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” “Five Feet Two,” and “Ordinary People.” The band broadcast on the BBC and on television; they were active until 1972. In 1995, he resumed playing with a new band, Spencer’s Nighthawks. This five-disc set collects Washboard Kings recordings and broadcasts, plus the Nighthawks live and in the studio.

Spencer deserves to be better known for his efforts and for their on-target authenticity. Many bands attempt to play Twenties Jazz, but they have a hard time going so far back stylistically without imitating recorded performances. No one could blame them: it’s difficult with players who have grown up with Miles and Rollins as exemplars of the Jazz tradition to be able to understand how a George Mitchell or Frank Teschmacher would approach a particular piece of material. But Spencer and his colleagues (most often a small band of cornet, two reeds, a rhythm section with brass horn instead of string bass, a washboard instead of a drum set) have managed to go back in time and stay within the idioms without losing any of the original energies. The band moves nimbly from Twenties pop to the ODJB, from Bechet and Henderson to the Luis Russell Orchestra with flu­idity and intensity.

Spencer himself is a focused, surprising player, not given to pyrotechnics, who doesn’t insist on having the show all to himself, giving the spotlight over to his gifted reed players (especially Mac White and Brian Hills), a trombonist or two, and the strong rhythm sections. A number of performances are solo outings for UK stars—especially pianists Martin Litton (impressive on “Alice Blue Gown” and “Here Comes the Band”), Neville Dickie, and Henry Davies, and they add a good deal of variety to this set (122 tracks). Some of the vocals seem more cheerful than convincing, but that’s part of the Twenties tradition as well. And the whole enterprise is miles away from the jolly persona British Trad often took on in the Sixties: no straw boaters here. I especially enjoyed the band’s versions of the Creole Jazz Band (“Mabel’s Dream”) and the Wolverines (“Susie”), a live “Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble” recorded at Whitley Bay, a leisurely “You Took Advantage of Me,” Spats Langham’s feature on “Doin’ the Raccoon” . . . and many more. Even better, the bonus disc contains alternate performances of many of the songs—the better to hear how thoroughly Spencer’s crew improvises. This set, full of delights, proves one of my Jazz theories. Somewhere, players currently unknown to you are improvising magnificently.

Michael Steinman