Ken Mathieson's Classic Jazz Orchestra
IN celebrating Jelly Roll Morton's legacy, drummer Ken Mathieson journeyed back through the history of jazz itself. Indeed, some of the tunes played here were even older than the concert emcee's patter; older, perhaps, but a sight fresher because Mathieson, when he eventually managed to wrestle possession of the stage, was perfectly justified in asserting that Morton's music is ageless.
It helped that the guests who supplemented Mathieson's regular team, and latterly an extended version thereof, play as if permanently plumbed into the New Orleans wellspring, clarinettist Evan Christopher and trumpeter Duke Heitger both soloing with bruised and bluesy character and guitarist-banjo player Don Vappie singing Buddy Bolden's Blues with a sure grasp of his subject.
Even before they arrived, however, "homeys" Martin Foster and Dick Lee, the former especially on an impassioned Honey Babe, set the scene with high quality clarinet playing in the same spirit.
Mathieson had raided the vaults of the Morton collection and burned the midnight oil to present arrangements that in some cases were world premieres of pieces that Morton had left unfinished or never expanded beyond the basic piano blueprint. Whoever or whatever inspired ZZ, it wasn't sleep as the expanded CJO, with added trumpets and trombones, swung emphatically in support of Christopher's joyous extemporising.
Morton's influence, notably on Duke Ellington (and especially the slow-burning Dusk, played with exemplary control), and his adaptation of early jazz hit Clarinet Marmalade were highlighted and explained at some length. But it was the musical notes that mattered and youthful tenorist Konrad Wiszniewski's soloing on King Porter Stomp signified a baton being passed on con brio.