Tuba Skinny

Pyramid Strut

(Independent)

Tuba Skinny, Pyramid Strut, album cover, OffBeat Magazine, February 2014

Tuba Skinny just keep getting better—and better at capturing their lively early jazz, blues, and ragtime sound in the studio. On this, their fifth release (recorded in Tasmania), the septet mixes those early 20th century sounds with characteristic verve. The opener, “Big Chief Battle Axe,” for example, may best be known from Dr. Michael White’s version, but Tuba Skinny’s take on the 1908 composition is lighter on its feet, with a less heavy beat and more of the instrumental play that makes such early tunes sing, with clarinetist Jon Doyle weaving in and around Shaye Cohn’s cornet in the characteristic group improv. That lively interplay invigorates this entire recording, elevating the 13 vintage numbers to hummable status. Even the slower pieces share in the fun: “Freight Train Blues,” for example, leans on trombonist Barnabus Jones and Cohn’s supple cornet for that train whistle moan, as vocalist (and bass drummer) Erika Lewis delivers her lines straight and not too smoky. But, still, Doyle’s clarinet gets in at the edges, working in and around the tune for the playful filigree that is a constant on this disc. And the two originals stay with the program. “Lonesome Drag” by Lewis offers an up-tempo blues that follows the opener quite naturally, as Lewis’s lightly throaty alto alternates with Cohn’s cornet and Doyle’s clarinet to keep things bouncing along. Cohn’s “Pyramid Strut,” an instrumental, gives Doyle the lead, although Cohn takes a stately solo before Jones joins in for ensemble improvisations and more solos (even tuba player Todd Burdick gets his chance). Tuba Skinnny’s collective effervescence has long characterized the group’s sets on the street or in a club; now they’ve captured that on vinyl, too