[Dixielandjazz] Evan Christopher's Celebration of Bechet

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu May 20 06:29:35 PDT 2010

Wish I'd been in NYC at this gig to see Evan, Ken Peplowski, James  
Boots Maleson and Jackie Williams.

Steve Barbone

May 19, 2010 - NY TIMES - By Ben Ratliff
Friends Gathered Around in Celebration of Bechet

The gig by the clarinetist Evan Christopher on Monday night took place  
in a theater, but the language of the show was house party. It was  
sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society, which since 1997 has promoted  
music associated with Bechet — which is to say New Orleans and Chicago  
jazz of the 1920s.

Enthusiasm and advocacy run high in the society, as they do in many of  
the small organizations that support early jazz. Many of its board  
members seemed to occupy the front rows of the theater — the Lucille  
Lortel, in the West Village — and talked to the band between numbers.

A Californian who moved to New Orleans in the mid-’90s, a working  
musician and part-time academic, Mr. Christopher has been striving to  
figure out the essence of musicians like Bechet (who died in 1959) not  
just through archives and recordings but also through performance.

As an improviser, he has lots of tools — equal facility in the full  
range of his instrument, switching in and out of triplet phrasing,  
storytelling and theme building. But what impresses you most about his  
solos is their immediacy. He has a thick tone with a hoarse edge, and  
he’ll often play a simple phrase with complicated emotion rather than  
vice versa; he’s not glib or lighthearted.

It’s strong stuff, so Ken Peplowski, a traditional-jazz clarinetist of  
a different sort, was his guest and foil. His style is lighter and  
quieter, more nuanced and more outwardly virtuosic; this worked well  
against and around Mr. Christopher’s playing.

The set kept up a double consciousness: recherché and gutbucket. It  
included Hoagy Carmichael’s “Jubilee,” James P. Johnson’s “Porter’s  
Love Song to a Chambermaid,” Rodgers and Hart’s “Ship Without a Sail”  
and Tommy Ladnier’s “Mojo Blues” — the kind of list that only a  
scholar would put together. But then frontline entertainers in this  
music are scholars by definition.

Knowing your subject means knowing there’s more you can do with it. In  
“Apex Blues,” which Jimmy Noone recorded in 1929, Mr. Christopher  
began alone, bending notes softly, playing more like a saxophonist;  
Mr. Peplowski answered with big-leap intervals, and the stately song  
started moving. In Mr. Christopher’s second solo, a single bending  
note ran to nearly four bars; he finished the chorus with growls,  
slurs and flutters. The guitarist James Chirillo backed him with  
steady quarter-note rhythm played in resourceful, Jim Hall-like ways,  
then broke into a Chicago blues-style solo.

The band members — who also included the bassist Boots Maleson and the  
drummer Jackie Williams — talked back to the crowd and among  
themselves. Mr. Peplowski told stories about the long war of nerves  
between Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. And at one point Mr. Christopher  
talked about why he started playing the clarinet. “I blame Artie  
Shaw,” he said. “I read his autobiography, and I knew I wanted to grow  
up to be a grumpy old man.”

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