Sugar Blues: A Tribute to Joseph "King" Oliver, Stomp Off CD 1298

from IAJRC (Internal Associatation of Jazz Record Collectors) Journal, Summer 1998

The joy of listening to two-cornet bands is brought to bear by these two excellent discs from Stomp Off (reviewed with Stomp Off CD1307). The band under Chris Tyle is not a working band, but comprises members from other groups including Leon Oakley and Mike Baird from the South Frisco Jazz Band. Tyle, John Gill and Steve Pistorius are the only full-time SLJB members present on this occasion. Clint Baker (leader of the New Orleans Jazz Band), Marty Eggers (freelancer who enhances any gig) and Hal Smith (leader of two or three bands) combine to give the group a pulse that doesn't falter for a moment.

John Gill turned out all of the arrangements except for two by Tyle ("The Pearls" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles") and a couple of stocks ("My Maryland" and "Eccentric"). "The Pearls" is a captivating duet by Tyle and Pistorius that leaves one wanting more. On this tune and others throughout the program, Chris uses a Conn metal practice mute of the kind that Oliver frequently employed. You'll recognize it when you hear it. The band sounds great, nice and full, and the soloists are familiar enough with the classic material to dive in head first. It is a fine collection of Oliver-related material played beautifully.

Russ Chase

from Jazz Journal, June, 1996

This is a worthy effort at recreating, without copying, the spirit and character of Oliver's music, and a great deal of work has gone into the arrangements (mainly John Gill's). Interestingly, the band has chosen mainly either tunes which Oliver recorded back in 1923 for Gennett, but which were never issued ("If You Want My Heart," "That Sweet Something," " When You Leave Me Alone to Pine"), or numbers which the Oliver band very probably played, but never recorded. But there's also a core of familiar Oliver classics.

"Bugle Call Rag" is not an ideal opener; certainly popular in Chicago in Oliver's day, but Oliver would have take it at a more laid-back tempo, I feel, and it's rather a bitty arrangement, broken up by too many run-of-the-mill breaks. Thereafter, from a good "Riverside Blues" onwards, the band settles down nicely, applying an Oliver-styled approach to some unfamiliar material full of melodic charm in the style of the era--e.g., the three 'lost' Oliver recordings, and "Oh! How I Miss You Tonight." " Choo Choo Blues" is also a particularly enjoyable track, well arranged and with some good brass breaks. On more familiar ground, "Jazzin' Babies Blues," "I'm Going Away" and "Canal Street Blues," represent familiar Oliver material, which the band performs with relish. The Pearls is a well-executed duet, in the style of the 1924 Oliver/Morton collaboration on "King Porter Stomp." I struggle to imagine Oliver playing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," though I suppose he just might have, but this is one of the less convincing tracks, and Baird's woody archaic style clarinet, suspect at times in intonation, is woefully flat on this number.

On the whole however, without coming near the masterful artistry of the great original recordings, these are colourful, interesting and spirited performances, which I enjoyed. The two cornets lead strongly throughout with the right mix of discipline and vigour, and are supported ably in ensemble by clarinet and trombone.

Hugh Rainey

from the Mississippi Rag, April 1996

Subtitled “A Tribute to Joseph ‘King’ Oliver,” this album pays its respects in the best possible way. Not by having the band play reverent replications of Oliver’s classic recordings as others have done, but by presenting music associated with Oliver and his time in a way that is true to the idiom of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band of 1923/24, yet imaginative and fresh. Any thoughts that this is going to be a dry repertory offering are quickly dispelled when the album opener, “Bugle Call Rag,” (with its multitudes of breaks, split choruses and high spirits), comes leaping from the speakers.

“Bugle Call Rag”? reflects the jazz scholar quizzically. “King Oliver didn’t record that!” True enough, but therein lies one of the clever and appealing things about this album. Leader/cornetist Chris Tyle and trombonist/arranger John Gill came up with a program that presents selections that Oliver probably played on the job but never recorded, selections he recorded that were unreleased, tunes that Oliver recorded later on in his career here rendered in his earlier style, plus numbers that Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band did record that are now given new arrangements.

This version of the Silver Leaf Jazz Band (a studio band quite different from the quartet of the same name that Tyle leads on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street) features musicians whose styles are similar to (but by no means copies of) the members of Oliver’s band. Tyle takes on Oliver’s role, playing the lead during ensembles, performing most cornet solos, often utilizing a small straight mute to good textural effect. Leon Oakley plays second cornet harmonies, emerging from the ensembles occasionally for short solos and breaks. His most effective moments come during “When You Leave My Along to Pine,” a previously unreleased Louis Armstrong compostion where he trades breaks with the ensemble ala Armstrong on the classic Oliver recording “Tears.” Clarinetist Mike Baird, with his rich singing tone, sounds positively invigorated in these surroundings, while trombonist John Gill is far more effective in the Kid Ory mode heard here that he has been elsewhere when trying to emulate Turk Murphy.

Banjoist Clint Baker contributes nice bass string countermelodies on a couple of selections and a fervently shouted “Oh, Play That Thing!” to “Dippermouth Blues.” Otherwise, he stays out of the way, just strumming good time. While pianist Steve Pistorius’ ragtime offerings have always affected this writer as technically correct but without soul, his solos here are given considerable spark by the wonderfully syncopated and flavorful accompaniements supplied by drummer Hal Smith and especially bassist Marty Eggers. Throughout this album Smith’s aggressively idiomatic playing (utilizing various woodblocks, tom-tom, choke cymbal, etc.) is absolutely right, but it’s Eggers’ snapping and bowing bass that gives each performance here stimulating buoyancy. 

As with the Creole Jazz Band, most selections here feature lots of improvised ensemble, notably the comfortable mid-tempo “Royal Garden Blues” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” with very effective use of dynamics (soft, softer, softer still, whisper soft, loud, ecstatically loud) creating musical tension and release. Hearing the material that King Oliver never recorded and especially the stuff that he did that was unreleased (pretty good tunes, too) is interesting, but even if the listener doesn’t give a whit about King Oliver this album stands on its own as an excellent presentation of hot classic jazz, beautifully record (kudos to sound engineer Mike Cogan), and is thus highly recommended.

Ted des Plantes