-Originally published in the NYC Jazz Record, December 2015-
WILD BILL DAVISON, “THE JAZZ GIANTS”
Sackville Stereo, released by Delmark Records 2015
Wild Bill Davison, cornet
Herb Hall, clarinet
Benny Morton, trombone
Claude Hopkins, piano
Arvell Shaw, bass
Buzzy Drootin, drums
CD Review by John Pietaro
Visions of hipness, concepts of cool, are born of a moment in time on which the industry machine feeds before the next whimsy strikes us—or is engineered to do just that. And so it goes in the wrestle between jazz and popular taste. Once upon a time, the music was drenched in the blues, marching to the strain of freely contrapuntal music that tore loose the constraints of the day. Such “traditional jazz”, born most excitedly in New Orleans but really in many places, cast seedlings universally. By the 1920s some of its greatest exponents ventured northward, inspiring the so-called Chicago school. This brand of hot jazz held strong regardless of the developments in the music or the demands of popular taste.
By the time the cornetist Wild Bill Davison brought all-star septet the Jazz Giants to Toronto, it was 1968. He’d trumpeted in the tradition, so to speak, for more than four decades, braving the ire of booking agents and modernists alike. But Davison, who’d struggled to take his place at center stage, had no intention of giving it up regardless of Miles’ “Nefertitti”, the Beatles’ ‘White Album’, or other musical advances released that year. For Davison, the classic instrumental line-up was all that was necessary, and here it was comprised of woefully under-recorded clarinetist Herb Hall (brother of Edmond), celebrated trombonist Benny Morton (who’d played with big band royalty), pioneering pianist Claude Hopkins (of Wilbur Sweatman’s early 20s band, Josephine Baker), Armstrong All-Star bassist Arvel Shaw and the drummer Buzzy Drootin, a regular at Eddie Condon’s nightclub and name bands alike.
Wild Bill called for the stage to weep, smoke, sizzle, and sometimes burn. “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”, fittingly, opens the disc. The spirit of Chicago resounds but also that of the Hot 5. Hear time-honored titles like “Them There Eyes”, “Black and Blue”, “I Surrender Dear” plus one that harkens back to a groundbreaking ‘28 Condon session, “I Found a New Baby”. The mix keeps it fresh, the features of the band members spreads the wealth. And for those squeamish about the “Dixieland” moniker, listen to the free interactions between horns out front and an ignited rhythm section--and enjoy the fact that Albert Ayler and others revolutionists rode the tradition right into New Thing fire music.