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Underworld Rag — A Traditional Jazz Record Diary


Free Jazz used to be the shit for me. It was the music I spent most of my time with before I fell under the sway of Traditional Jazz.

The thing about Free Jazz that most appealed to me was the feeling of total release I could glean from the music when it was really hitting me. Players like David S. Ware and Roswell Rudd got to me because they sounded absolutely intent on expressing themselves at any cost and unconcerned with the adoration of technique that characterizes so much modern jazz. I don’t like fussy music.

What always bothered me about Free Jazz, though, is that too often the music is simply aimless and so overtly self-indulgent that the pleasure of that initial burst of excitement rarely leads to anything more involving. Firecrackers are fun, but after a while those explosions start sounding like nothing but noise.

I’ve had little use for Free Jazz since I found my way to all that great New Orleans music. Here I get all the unruly sounds I crave without the tedium of the endlessly bleating soloist. And ever since I realized how much I love a good melody my Charles Gayle records have been gathering dust.

The point of all this blather is that yesterday I came across a great band that sounds like they might be coming at this music from approximately the same direction as myself. Their name is The Blue Bone Express. They’re from Oakland and they play driving, energetic Traditional Jazz free of the mothball reek that typically accompanies modern bands playing this music. This shit sounds alive!

After listening to the four songs available on their website I felt a weird shock of recognition. I’m used to hearing musicians under the spell of Louis Armstrong or even Lu Watters, but this is the first time I’ve heard a band of Traditional Jazz musicians who sound like they’ve taken a dose of their inspiration from the same wooly Free Jazz records that used to set me on fire. At times they sound something like a Don Ewell group with Ken Vandermark sitting in on baritone sax. And instead of a string bass there’s a tuba player who puts down a thick bottom of Brass Band funk.

If there’s any hope for the future of this music it’s going to come from musicians like these. Players who are willing to do something more with the music than simply ape past masters. There’s nothing hackneyed or contrived in what these guys play. They sound utterly natural doing what they do. One of the four songs on their web site is even an original. How many Traditional Jazz bands do you see dare that? It’s a quasi-rag titled Sweltering Solar Rag and it may be the best tune of the bunch.

If you have any interest in the future of this music, check this band out. Here’s their website. I just hope there’s a whole lot more where this came from.

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