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Standards by Just Cause

Standards is not an easy disk to review. It’s a strange album. First of all, it is titled "Standards" but not "standards" that most people would expect. There is no Stardust, Body & Soul nor other jazz perennials. These are "protest songs" adopted by various and sundry movements.

They are all pieces that are usually sung by folks like Josh White, Burl Ives, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger or Paul Robeson. Just Cause performs these songs instrumentally in a variety of styles. How does one "classify" a compilation like this. The disk easily fits into the genres of traditional jazz, mainstream jazz, free jazz, reggae, chamber music, blues plus a nice "Miles" trademark that occurs here and there. This site allows reviewers one genre for each record and I’ll choose traditional jazz as the description which best fits this unusual production.

The musicians who make up Just Cause have a shipload of musical education behind them and can clearly play competently in any music style. On this occasion, they have chosen to imitate and honor the rather primitive genres of work songs, Dixieland jazz and blues. They do it very, very well and open with their take on the old hymn Gonna Study War No More and many listeners will associate the melody with "Down By The Riverside." The track features a hot Dixieland arrangement led by trumpeter Rob Henke with some fine clarinet work by Jody Espina. Both players fit perfectly into the early hot jazz idiom.

My personal favorite track is Revive Us Again. Originally recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1928 as Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, the song had its beginnings in the music of the church. A Miles Davis style trumpet comes out of nowhere to dominate this wonderful old tune. The band then launches into a clarinet led funeral march in the form of John Henry recalling the legendary steel driver of the 19th century.

The set winds down with Solidarity Forever and We Shall Overcome, two beautiful nine minute productions by Just Cause. The first is, perhaps, more often recalled as John Brown’s Body and opens in a Miles "Bitch’s Brew" groove. Listen closely for some great bass work by Jim Whitney. The closer is, of course, We Shall Overcome and it starts with a beautiful intro on Lakota flute. The laid-back performance fades then reemerges as a very hot Dixieland piece tailing off with some pretty guitar by Rolf Sturm. Sturm is the man who brought this whole thing together and deserves congratulations for an unusual and dramatic album. I’m amazed too, that percussionist Scott Neumann was able to be so convincing in all the styles he was called upon to produce.

While Standards will not appeal to all tastes, it will be appreciated by fans of Free Jazz or the hardcore Dixielander like myself. Feel free to wander over to the Water Street Music website and download the free full length MP3 of a track not included on the CD. CD-Baby has more sample tracks on their site.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Just Cause
  • CD Title: Standards
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Water Street Music
  • Tracks: Going To Study War No More; We Shall Not Be Moved; Revive Us Again; John Henry; The Return Of The Boll Weevil; Hey Ho, Nobody Home; Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad ; The Peatbog Soldiers; Solidarity Forever; We Shall Overcome.
  • Musicians: Rolf Sturm (electric guitar, classical guitar, steel-string guitar, guitorgan, banjo); Rob Henke (trumpet, goof-a-phone, tuba); Jody Espina (penny whistle, recorder, Native American flute, clarinet, flute, alto sax, soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax); Jim Whitney (acoustic bass); Scott Neumann (drums, percussion). Special guest: Douglas Sturm (piano) on one track only.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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