Thursday, July 7, 2016

Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen * Tradition in Colour * EMI (Encore! ENC 124) * 1958

Green for Danger
Blue Turning Grey Over You
Orange Blossom (really "St Philip's Street Breakdown" by George Lewis)
Yellow Dog Blues
Red Wing
The Old Grey Mare
Burgundy Street Blues
Black Diamond Rag
Mood Indigo
My Blue Heaven
Black and Blue

Terry Lightfoot * clarinet
Colin Smith * trumpet
John Bennett * trombone
Wayne Chandler * banjo
Bill Reid * bass
Ginger Baker * drums

The British Trad Jazz movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, when acknowledged by jazz historians at all, is generally footnoted among the various revivals of early New Orleans style, beginning with Bechet’s Blue Note recordings and the various renewals of interest driven by Louis Armstrong’s extended career. While there is certainly truth to this categorization, such a pigeon hole can also be misleading and devaluing when we really consider the achievement of the actual music: “Creative Resurgence” would be my choice as a better way of understanding what actually happened. Of the many masterful, and deceptively innovative, albums to be released in a very short period of time, Terry Lightfoot’s Tradition in Colour remains a strong example.

The title of each tune makes a nod to the visible spectrum, and leading off with “Green for Danger” we’re thrown right into the Trad Jazz aesthetic—more modal and streamlined than most revival jazz, Wayne Chandler’s banjo standing out more prominently as an organizational influence, the drums (played by a young Ginger Baker) taking a less dominant, more timbral role. Lightfoot’s clarinet, from beginning to end of the album, is excellent—rich, powerful in all registers, layered, and shot through with meaning. At moments the influences of Albert Nicholas and Edmond Hall seem evident, but any and all role models have been fully integrated into a new voice in the jazz clarinet world—confident, relaxed, commanding without being overbearing, ruminative (especially George Lewis’s “Burgundy Street Blues”).

While Lightfoot is the focus, taking the spotlight on the majority of solo numbers, he gives Colin Smith a chance to show off his strong trumpet in Fats Waller’s “Blue Turning Grey Over You.” Later in the album, he features John Bennett’s trombone on “My Blue Heaven.” Bennett in particular seems to have a sound indebted to the English Brass Band tradition, unique in windplaying for its mellow, round, shimmering quality. This is one of the great treats of British Trad Jazz, by the way: the British brass tradition is less buzzy and directional than many others, and the warmth that they bring can change the repertoire immediately, offering different angles on each tune.

Terry Lightfoot himself, however, must be singled out for high praise. His soloing style, while owing a debt to American forefathers, is likewise a product of a specifically British style of clarinetistry, fused to the New Orleans tradition. The richness of his chalumeau, which seamlessly glides into the clarion register, is unique. He is less impetuous and more methodical in his soloing ideas, opting to use motivic cells throughout distinct choruses. That type of playing, more emotionally circumspect, would seem to be antithetical to blues playing, but in Lightfoot’s case it is not: he impresses by being ruminative and contemplative rather than disengaged or cerebral. His blues are deep and strong, even in their detached quality. Most gratifying is that he managed to play the full rich New Orleans style chalumeau without falling into the trap of so many revival clarinetists—going flat. Lightfoot’s execution of the music and the clarinet itself are therefore of importance. Unfortunately, “Orange Blossom”, is attributed to Lightfoot himself (at least on the edition of the album I own), yet is unmistakably a George Lewis original, “St. Philip Street Breakdown.”  Unless this is a misprint, it can only be considered embarrassing that the attribution was not acknowledged, marring an otherwise fascinating album.      

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