Leroy Jones is known around New Orleans as being the best unsung trumpeter in town, and his newest record Sweeter than a Summer Breeze solidifies his standing. This recording supplements his quartet of trumpet, guitar, bass and drums with strings, and it is a beautiful combination. The set consists mostly of standards, although there are several originals that fit the overall vibe. Jones' playing here is powerful, yet subtle. His tone is gorgeous and assured, whether straight ahead on the flugelhorn on "Yesterdays" or reaching for his higher register on his original "Katrina" or "Willow Weep For Me." The songs are compact and succinct with little extraneous noodling. The strings augment the quartet well, either adding countering lines or background accompaniment like a movie soundtrack. In the past, if an artist recorded with strings, it was seen as either a serious statement or going "pop." On this recording, Jones gets "pop" in the sense that the music should appeal to a wider audience, but he and the band do not sacrifice musicianship. This recording ranks up there with Charlie Parker with Strings and Stan Getz's Focus. If this were 40 years ago, it might make Leroy Jones a star, but now it more than justifies his excellent reputation.
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Preservation Hall Jazz Band
New Orleans Preservation Vol. 1
(Preservation Hall Recordings)
Traditional New Orleans jazz has been not only having a renaissance of late, but evolving, too. Tim Laughlin, Evan Christopher and Tom McDermott, among others, have been expanding the range and repertoire — so has the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The latter's new recording New Orleans Preservation Vol. 1 does exactly that. The choice of songs includes some old chestnuts such as "Tiger Rag" and "I Don't Want To Set the World on Fire" (with a gorgeous recitation from bassist Walter Payton), but it also has some lesser played tunes including the bouncy "Short Dressed Gal," the bluesy strut of Jimmy Rodgers' "Blue Yodel #9," and an irrepressible version of Danny Barker's arrangement of "Choko Mo Feel No Hey." All the elements of good New Orleans jazz are here: the "Spanish tinge" of "El Manicero," the ribald fun of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," and the funereal majesty of "Westlawn Dirge." There is an energy to these songs that relative newcomers trumpeter Mark Braud and saxophonist Clint Maegden add to the veterans of the band. The group's enthusiasm and joy comes through with a verve that brings this old music to the present and turns it into dance/party music that anyone can appreciate.
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A Royal Street Serenade
Clarinetist Tim Laughlin's latest release, A Royal Street Serenade, is filled with a great assortment of standards, fairly obscure tunes and originals for which Laughlin is known. The band swings throughout the whole set and encompasses many moods from the relaxed "Aunt Hagar's Blues" to the haunting melody of "A Bientot." Laughlin chose to record this set without a piano, so there is a lightness to the arrangements that can be attributed not only to the lack of keyboard but also to the subtle guitar of Larry Scala and the excellent mallet work of vibraphonist Jason Marsalis. Laughlin's originals are again top-notch. The title track sounds like a lost Duke Ellington song with Laughlin's clarinet working in the vein of Ellington's longtime foil Jimmy Hamilton. Laughlin also penned a great tribute to one of his and New Orleans' greatest influences, Pete Fountain, with the track "For Pete's Sake," where Laughlin's clarinet tone recalls Fountain. Laughlin ends the record with a spoken monologue that is an informative explanation of the music, the musicians and his recent history.