In addition to playing hundreds of gigs in his 15 years in the Crescent City, guitarist/banjoist Seva Venet has done some serious study of the early string bands of New Orleans.
Like the mandolin orchestras which used to populate the land, this is a nearly extinct genre: How often today do you hear, for instance, a quartet of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass playing ragtime and early jazz?
For this listener, the disc is most exciting when it touches on music that’s tangential to what we usually consider the prime elements that made up early jazz. These include “El Zopilote Mojado” (a Mexican Polka), which clarinetist James Evans, violinist Matt Rhody and Venet pull off with a superb brio; and the medley of “Creole Belles/Aloha Oe/My Bucket’s Got a Hole in it.”
It’s great fun to hear “Belles” played with a tango rhythm (as it undoubtedly could’ve been back in the day) and to realize that “Aloha Oe” (the “Saints” of Hawaiian music) was part of the New Orleans mix in 1884.
This disc also presents Seva’s reimagining of what a quadrille might have sounded like by an 1880s New Orleans string band—an ambitious undertaking. By taking on this project, Venet has delved into areas where not many musicologists have wandered (though at the same time he gives credit to those who’ve done important research).
Fifteen pages of notes accompany the CD, and Emilie Rhys’ beautiful translation of a photo of an old-time trio into her singular ink-drawing style is the icing on this cake.