Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Affecting Albums - Snappy Too - James Morrison

Snappy Too - James Morrison

(Links on tracks take you to Spotify to have a listen)

For those of you who are musicians, you have no doubt had the experience of playing in a band and not enjoying how one of the other players has played a part - be it that they can't nail it, or their feel is all wrong. You privately seethe, or you might have a chat to them about it, but that's about all you can do - unless you're James Morrison. Then you can have a 17 piece big band that plays exactly how you want it, because (apart from the drummer) all the musicians are you!

James Morrison will need no introduction to many readers - an Australian Jazz musician of wonderful proficiency across a wide range of styles and instruments, who plays gigs ranging from concerts with Brass Bands through to bop in smokey basements, there is almost nothing he hasn't done since his first professional gig in his teens.

In 1990, with the help of three friends Jeff Hamilton (drums), Ray Brown (bass), and Herb Ellis (guitar), he recorded an album of big band pieces, where he (Morrison) played all the piano, brass and woodwind parts - this album was entitled Snappy Doo. As he writes on the liner notes of the album under review, he always had in his mind that he would one day record another album along the same lines - and with Brown and Ellis now unfortunately no longer with us, Morrison himself has taken up guitar and bass, and, along with Jeff on drums, Snappy Too is now with us.

The album is a collection of original pieces (written by Morrison) and standards such as All of me, Up a Lazy River, and Someday my Prince Will Come. This last piece is played on a Bass Trumpet designed by Morrison and built by the craftsmen at Schagerl brass instruments. Morrison also plays another of his designs, a rotary-valved trumpet with a piston-trumpet length lead pipe called The Raven, in Zog's Jog, which is a wonderful high energy big-band showpiece. This makes Morrison the Jack Brabham of musicians in my opinion (and with Morrison being an absolute motor-head, I'm sure he'd understand the allusion).

The initial "wow" factor of Morrison playing 16 instruments soon wears off as the album gets going. Morrison is such an exciting and energetic player that you find yourself relishing the music and forgetting how it's made, which is as it should be. High trumpet playing is what Morrison is known for, and there is plenty of top-notch screaming, but what is noticeable in a few of the pieces here, such as my personal favourite The Call, is his fine sense of building a solo, from a sometimes low and soft start, building the energy and excitement to a fever pitch before the rest of the "band" kicks in with a killer riff.

As expected, the trombone playing is top notch, but another highlight for me is No Regret, a slower moodier piece, where Morrison solos on tenor sax and sounds very Stan Getz-ish. Nice.

For a change from the classic big band style Sad Blues uses a trad-jazz line up of trumpet, trom, clarinet, banjo and washboard, with plenty of flutter-tongued and plunger-muted trumpet to add to the trad feel.

If you like Jazz, if you like exciting playing, if you like Big Band music, and if you like music that SWINGS, then Snappy Too is well worth checking out.

Snappy Too is available via iTunes, or direct from www.jamesmorrison.com (where he also has a clever video clip of Zog's Jog)

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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