by Bert Thompson
Jazzin' the Double Eagle; Down Home Rag; Savoy Blues; My Heart; Cake Walking Babies from Home; Petite Fleur; I Wish't I Was in Peoria; Chauncey's Tune: Little Enough; Stevedore Stomp; Love Songs of the Nile; Tia Juana; Chimes Blues; Home; Cole Smoak; Mississippi Delta Blues; King Chanticleer.
It seems hard to believe that the Devil Mountain Jazz Band was formed 20 years ago. Such longevity is quite an achievement, but an even greater one is still to sound fresh after so long. Personnel, of course, have changed over the years, as the Grim Reaper, various employers, etc. dictate when and to where musicians must relocate. Of the original members, three are heard on this CD—Ken Keeler, Pete Main, and, probably for a final recording, Jean Keeler, who has retired for health reasons. Several of the others have been with the band for quite a few years, and the "newest" additions do, indeed, continue the band's excellence without affecting its "style." The latest of these is Virginia Tichenor, who takes Jean's place at the piano. While the demands of replacing personnel are enervating, Ken always comes up trumps, it seems, as is clear from the numbers of people who have passed through the ranks and their musicianship. A look at the members, past and present, listed on the band's web site and a listen to this recording will give clear evidence of Ken's recruiting ability—and good fortune in having such talent in his vicinity and in locating it, no small task in itself!
The title of this CD—you asked for more—indicates the kind of thing one might expect to hear since the selections (like those on the 10th anniversary CD you asked for it) are all frequently requested tunes at the band's gigs. That is not to say that they are all standards or tired war horses. How many bands have King Chanticleer in their books—especially with a duck call chorus—or Tia Juana? Or when was the last time you heard another band play Under the Double Eagle—jazzily, as here, or even straight, for that matter? There is even a slide trumpet to be heard on Chauncey's Tune: Little Enough, Noel Weidekamp actually playing it, unlike Louis Armstrong, who holds one in a photograph of the famous King Oliver Creole Jazz Band but probably never played it.
All of the material is given TLC, resulting in fine performances. The arrangements from the likes of Bob Enos, Jim Maihack, Robin Wetterau, Charlie Sonnanstine, Eric Holroyd (from Oz), et al. are played expertly by these musicians, the result being a most pleasurable 70-odd minutes of music. Among my favorite tracks are Chimes Blues, for its interesting "chimes" scored for three trumpets and trombone; Petite Fleur (which reached #5 on the top 40 in 1959), for Pete Main's sensitive soprano sax tribute to the tune's composer, Sidney Bechet; Love Songs of the Nile, for getting the chords right, although Billie Pierce's work quite well, too; and My Heart, for Jean Keeler's 3/4-time rendition on the first chorus, letting us hear Lil Hardin's original conception—and finding out that it works. There are also quite a few vocals for those who hanker after such, Andy Storar, Noel Weidkamp, Allan Grissette, and Jean Keeler coming to the mike on different occasions. Ken Keeler indulges in a little yodeling on Mississippi Delta Blues, and the whole band gets into the vocal act, singing in unison on I Wish't I Was in Peoria behind Mr. Grissette. So as well as fine musical performances, there is a lot of rollicking fun here.
Do yourself—and the band—a favor by getting a copy either by buying one at one of the band's gigs or by logging on to the web site at www.jazznut.com and ordering one there. Failing that, you can contact Ken Keeler by e-mail at DMJB@jazznut.com or by telephone at (925) 625-2707. Price is $17.00, which includes postage.