CD Review: The Basin Street Brawlers – It’s Tight Like That

The Basin Street Brawlers – It’s Tight Like That
(JohnJohn. JJR CD006. Review by Alyn Shipton)

Back in the 1970s, there were lots of us playing traditional jazz in pubs and clubs across London. Now, the city is a comparative desert for the older styles of jazz, but with strongly attended seasons at Wilton’s Music Hall, Crazy Coqs at the Brasserie Zedel, and the Blues Kitchen, trumpeter Peter Horsfall’s Basin Street Brawlers are bucking the trend. For many public appearances they are a five piece, with the Armstrong Hot Five line-up of trumpet, clarinet, trombone, piano and guitar or banjo, and there’s a perfect example of this on the new CD, with a strongly swinging version of Once In A While . Over a stop chorus Horsfall shows his mastery of classic jazz timing, flowing into a solo as the rhythm section slides back into place behind him. Ewan Bleach’s Creole-tinged clarinet provides a fine foil for the robust trumpet lines, as does the slightly self-conscious tailgate trombone of Malcolm Earle-Smith. Bryan Ferry’s musical director and veteran of the Vile Bodies big band Colin Good is the ideal pianist, and Martin Wheatley’s banjo gels well, so that the rhythm misses neither bass nor drums. If the rest of the disc were this good, it would be a mini masterpiece of an album.

When the drums of Mez Clough and the bass of Dave O’Brien are added, giving a fuller rhythm section sound on — for example — the old Armstrong warhorse Swing That Music, the larger force lacks the commitment of the smaller group. Nonetheless there’s grit and fire from Horsfall and Bleach (this time on tenor). Both of them play traditional jazz as if they mean it, as does Wheatley (who turns in a great chordal solo on acoustic guitar in If Dreams Come True). Horsfall produces a really first rate solo on Just One of Those Things but the rhythm doesn’t engage properly until the final outchorus, when the irresistible trumpet lead pulls everyone along by the scruff of the neck.

Almost every track has some fine playing — Bleach on If Only You Knew is exceptional — but there’s not quite enough of it from everyone to make this a really exceptional album. This may sound harsh, especially for band that’s got a strong and growing live following, but almost a hundred years of recorded history make it more difficult than in any other form of jazz for a traditionally orientated band to shine on disc. The good news is that there are enough rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds to make it a perfectly pleasant summer evening listen.

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