Gutsy, gritty and grabbing is the way I would describe the Shotgun Jazz Band, and it is precisely the way I’d label this CD.
It is an excellent example of why I always head for Frenchmen Street if I know these guys are playing.
This is straight-ahead New Orleans jazz of the first order—no tricks or gimmicks here—and it also helps that everyone in the band is at the top of their form through all 16 of these delightful cuts. Some credit has to go to the recording engineer, Earl Scioneaux, for capturing just the way this band sounds on a really steamy night at the Spotted Cat.
Trumpeter Marla Dixon is exciting as usual as one of the dozen or so women around playing first-class jazz on a horn. This disc is also liberally sprinkled with her vocals, which range in presentation from funky to soulful and back again.
When you see Marla in person you never know whether she’ll be using a mike or just hollering. She often doesn’t seem to know herself just what her approach will be to a particular tune, and this recording seems to capture that quality.
Charlie Halloran’s gut-bucket trombone is a perfect match in the front line, along with the moaning saxophone and Dodds-like clarinet of James Evans, who also takes a vocal on one selection, “Love In Bloom.”
From the very first cut, a hard driving blues called “I Believe I Can Make It By Myself,” Marla’s husband John Dixon’s banjo is clearly in control of the rhythm section, giving it a sound reminiscent of the Bunk Johnson revival band of 70 years ago.
Bass player Tyler Thompson and drummer Justin Peake are strong in that they are “just there.”
The pianist is a bit of a surprise. Ben Polcer is usually heard on trumpet leading his own New Orleans Six, but it’s well known that he also plays good workmanlike piano, which he does here throughout the disc, including in two or three solo spots.
While it is all in the same earthy style, There is quite an array of music here; blues, pop tunes, one familiar brass band hymn (“Over In The Glory Land”), a classic march (“Mobile Stomp”), and there are even a couple of country and western tunes. The old familiar “Tennessee Waltz” has Marla starting out dreamily but ending up in pure funk.
The King Oliver tune “Tears” gets a good treatment here, completely ensemble like the original, except for some clarinet breaks replacing a chorus of Armstrong breaks in the Oliver version. Evans is especially good on “Kentucky Blues,” which also features a satisfying Ben Polcer piano solo, the most of him you’ll hear on this disc.
If you’re a visitor to town and looking for a good example of the kind of music you’ll find on Frenchmen Street these days, this CD would make a solid choice. It was recorded, the sleeve tells me, on Mother’s Day 2014.
So take it from me, these “Mothers” know just what they’re doing.