Judicious placement of swinging originals and timeless standards within a solid framework of acoustic traditional jazz defines Jon-Erik Kellso's newest effort, Blue Roof Blues
. Fans of Vince Giordano's Night Hawks should be familliar with Kellso, who is perhaps the top traditional jazz cornetist today in the New York jazz scene. Rounding out the album's personnel are clarinetist Evan Christopher, guitarist Matt Ministeri (who also doubles on banjo), bassist Danton Boller, and drummer Marion Felder.
Don't let Kellso's Chicago roots fool you - he knows New Orleans. Many players have difficulty breathing life into the superannuated works of the jazz repertory, but Kellso and his band effortlessly intertwine fossilized standards like "Panama" and "Hindustan" within a broader framework of pieces by Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington as well as the band's own material. Kellso's crackling, rough-hewn tone (made even more so by the use of mutes) joyously rips through this set, aided by Evan Christopher's richly classic New Orleans clarinet and the deft string work of Matt Ministeri.
It's difficult to pick a stand-out track on this album, but Kellso's funkified reworking of Thelonius Monk's "Bye-Ya" certainly qualifies. As the drums beat out a laid-back second line rhythm, a sitar - no, wait, that's Ministeri playing a single-string melody on the banjo! - creeps in, then the horns. Jubilant soloing and counterpoint follow, as the drums steer the band out through the final coda, and down the road out of earshot. "Bye-ya" functions as a relief to the mournful "Blue Roof Blues," and as a set these two tunes favorably recreate the grief and celebration of a traditional New Orleans funeral. Somewhere out there, Thelonius is dancing around in a little circle, smiling.
With each batch of CDs that I review, inevitably one of them will take up a permanent residence on top of my CD player. Blue Roof Blues
is the newest inductee into that special realm of my music collection. If the critics and name-droppers have ears, they will give this CD a quick boost into the 2007 "best-of" categories.