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Thursday, January 9, 2014


Jason Berry (bless his heart) made this nice mention of our "Hymns & Spirituals" CD in his latest column for New Orleans Magazine. Excerpts:

Clarinetist Tommy Sancton and pianist Lars Edegran do a splendid job on instrumental versions of  songs from those early quartets and the repertoire of street bands. Hymns & Spirituals. New Orleans Quartet (NOL-CD-99) culls 14 songs that were recorded at live performances in Trinity Episcopal Church, between 2007 and ’09.

Since Sancton returned several years ago to his hometown after a journalist’s career in Paris, the one-time student of the peerless George Lewis has become a mainstay of the traditional jazz community. On numbers like “In the Garden” and “Abide With Me,” Edegran’s anchoring work on piano gives Sancton room to roam; his lines quaver and soar like a vocalist in flight. Of all the instruments in the classic jazz ensemble – or a parade band for that matter – the clarinet is the woodwind that, at its best, comes closest to intoning a feminine essence.

In his memoir, Song For My Fathers, Sancton writes of his lessons under George Lewis: “He would go up and down the horn, weaving in and out, sometimes harmonizing with the melody, sometimes leaving space and playing a counterpoint, something laying down a rhythmic arpeggio. His tone was gorgeous, especially when he let his horn sing out on the long notes with his plaintive vibrato.”

The “plaintive vibrato” is every clarinetist’s goal, fusing the sadness and sweetness that give church song an essence of the blues. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” has a slow moody blues melancholia to fit a harmonizing quartet, with no musical accompaniment, or a clarinetist undulating across a landscape of African-American memory, the notes supplanting the tolling lines of sorrow.

Lars Edegran’s supple piano gives Hymns & Spirituals a base line to dramatize the nature of melody, a songline that draws its beauty, instrumentally and in human voices, which swing together.

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