The last decade has seen a new bounty of interesting young trad jazz bands on Frenchmen Street. Old-timers like the Jazz Vipers, the Cottonmouth Kings, and the Little Big Horns have been joined by the more recent Shotgun Jazz Band, the Royal Roses, and the Swamp Donkeys.
As polished as any of these newcomers is the Smoking Time Jazz Club. According to their website, they’ve issued nine albums, with a rotating cast of characters. The three I’ve heard have all shown their dedication to lesser-known (but still outstanding) works by the 1920s–’30s classic jazz masters.
Ain’t We Fortunate, their latest, may have brought them to a new plateau. The sound, recorded by the wizardly Earl Scioneaux III, is fabulous. Drums are prominent; the only chordal instrument is the banjo, which functions as much as a percussion instrument as a harmonic instrument (fortunately the front line takes up the slack with a lot of harmonized lines and counterpoint). The effect is very “live,” and much energized.
Simon Lott, one of the city’s premiere drummers, is not necessarily always playing in the older style, but he brings coiled energy to every note. John Joyce’s slap bass kicks things along, and Jack Pritchett’s judicious mutes add pungent flavor. Joe Goldberg has riveting moments on clarinet and alto sax; he’s one of the city’s underappreciated reed men.
The repertoire, lesser-known gems from Tiny Parham, Sidney Bechet, and Duke Ellington, is uniformly wonderful. These guys are among New Orleans’ trad jazz aces.