Sidney Bechet’s music and prowess on the soprano saxophone was every bit as powerful, soulful, and inventive as his New Orleans compatriot Louis Armstrong, but Armstrong became the most famous jazz player ever and Bechet became more of cult figure. Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses’ new live recording, A Tribute to Sidney Bechet, is a fitting tribute to this underestimated musician. It is full of energy from the moment a listener presses play with the fast, seductive dance of “Ti Ralph” and the joyous bounce of “Cakewalking Babies.”
Nealand’s playing goes for both the smooth and coarse tones that soprano saxophone and clarinet can do; the smoothness elevates the slight melancholy of “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” while her coarse tone gives “Summertime” an extra kick. And speaking of kick, the way the band quickens the tempo after the languid first verse of “After You’ve Gone” is better than sticking a finger in an electric socket for a jolt.
Here and throughout the record, the interplay between the front line of trombonist Charlie Halloran, trumpeter David Boswell, and Nealand gives this music a force that harkens back to the collective improvisations of early New Orleans music. It’s hard to put new life into some of these trad jazz warhorses, but the exuberance of the band in the confines of Preservation Hall makes these songs sound contemporary, and, after all, they are. Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses play them with the meaning, energy, and relevance that timeless music such as this possesses.