Take Five: The Hot Sardines Hit the Trail, Ella Fitzgerald Takes Flight, and Steve Davis Locks In

Mar 3, 2019

The Hot Sardines, “Caravan”

Not many bands have seized the postmillennial early-jazz spotlight with as much gusto as The Hot Sardines. An eight-piece outfit co-led by singer Elizabeth Bougerol and pianist Evan Palazzo, it has devoted more than the last decade to a razzle-dazzle reclamation of prewar swing, often with a healthy dose of humor.

And if you’ve seen The Hot Sardines in action — at a Lower Manhattan haunt, or at the New York Hot Jazz Festival — you know how much oomph they put into their connection with an audience. That’s the secret sauce on their live album Welcome Home, Bon Voyage (Eleven Records), due out on April 19. Produced by Eli Wolf, it was recorded in two bursts at Joe’s Pub in New York and Koerner Hall in Toronto, Ontario.

Here is an exclusive premiere of the album’s first single, an action-packed version of the Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington anthem “Caravan,” with an arrangement by Broadway orchestrator Bill Elliott.

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage will be available on April 19, with a special vinyl release on April 13 for Record Store Day. The Hot Sardines appear at Club Cumming, the actor Alan Cumming’s East Village cabaret, on March 12 and 26, before an album-release show on April 26 at Joe’s Pub.

Steve Davis, “Batista’s Revenge”

Correlations, the title of a new album by trombonist Steve Davis, implies more than one big idea. To “correlate” means, among other things, “to establish a mutual or reciprocal relation between,” per Merriam-Webster — and Davis does precisely that, with five other musicians who had never worked as a unit before. They are trumpeter Joshua Bruneau, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Jonathan Barber. To a man, they’re insightful musicians who share Davis’ foothold in the modern-jazz mainstream.

And yes, there are correlations between past and present on this album. Davis includes tunes by a few of his heroes, including Horace Silver, whose ballad “Peace” receives a sensitive treatment. The track above, “Batista’s Revenge,” is a Davis original that bears a knowing resemblance to Silver’s classic “Cape Verdean Blues.” Listen for sharp solos by Bruneau and Escoffery, and some effective talking drum in the outro by guest percussionist Cyro Baptista. (No relation to the name in the title, a nod to former major league infielder Tony Batista.)

Correlations will be released on Smoke Sessions Records on Friday. The Steve Davis Sextet performs Thursday through Saturday at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club.

Laurence Hobgood, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

Laurence Hobgood was not yet 10 years old when Crosby Stills & Nash first performed “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. But he grew up in a world where the song, which Stephen Stills wrote for Judy Collins, held an outsize fascination. Hobgood, an ever-insightful pianist, arranger and composer, brings that perspective to his version of the song, for piano trio with string quartet.

Along with piano, the trio features bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jared Schonig. The string quartet is ETHEL, and the sleek orchestration is Hobgood’s handiwork. (Don’t miss the way that the entire ensemble shifts gears at around 5:45 — setting up a piano solo over a breakneck walking swing tempo, with the strings percolating behind him.) This is the first available track from Hobgood’s new album, t e s s e t e r r a, which also includes reinterpretations of material by Ray Charles, The Police, Hoagy Carmichael and Jimmy Webb.

t e s s e t e r r a will be released on Ubuntu Music on April 26.

Jeremy Pelt, “Feito”

When this habitually self-possessed trumpeter chose to call his new album Jeremy Pelt The Artist, he had more than his own reputation in mind. Pelt drew inspiration for the album from a range of sculptural forms: its first five tracks make up “The Rodin Suite,” after the immortal Auguste Rodin. The music is performed by a colorful eight-piece ensemble, with (among others) Frank LoCrasto on Fender Rhodes, Alex Wintz on  guitar and Chien Chien Lu on marimba and vibraphone.

“Feito” is a track from the album that seems to evade any direct connection to Rodin, unless I’m missing something. The word translates to “done” — not in French, but in Portuguese. And it’s one letter off from “feio,” which means “ugly,” and which provided Miles Davis with a song title on Bitches Brew. There’s a distinctly Milesian thrust to the tune, which starts as if in media res, like some of Wayne Shorter’s writing for the 1960s quintet. But what poise! Whatever the specific motivation, Pelt brings his full artistry to bear. (The brief but serious piano solo, by the way, comes courtesy of Victor Gould.)

Jeremy Pelt The Artist is available now on HighNote Records.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Air Mail Special”

Finally, a closer so good it can’t possibly be topped. Ella at the Shrine documents part of a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert on Jan. 21, 1956, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. It’s an exceptional live album that was first released on limited-edition yellow vinyl as a Record Store Day Black Friday special last fall. It’s now available in digital formats, on streaming services, and on plain black vinyl, from Verve/UMe — and very much worth your time, however you choose to listen.

Fitzgerald had just begun her relationship with Verve at the start of 1956. She had also just begun an engagement at Zardi’s Jazzland — as we observed here a couple of years ago, when Verve released the sublime album Ella at Zardi’s. Her appearance on a JATP bill reflects her alignment with producer Norman Granz, who turns up at the end of the set to calm a frenzied crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, she would like to do more but she has to get back to Zardi’s Jazzland.”

So why was the crowd in such a state? Simple: they’d just heard Ella scat circles around “Airmail Special,” her customary closer, littered with clever quotations and packed with mounting drama. (Hear how she teases, and then nails, a high G sharp — with all the ceremonial flair of an acrobatic trick.)

Jazz broadcaster and historian Phil Schaap, who discovered these tapes in a vault at Verve, surmises that she’s backed here by the same trio heard on Ella at Zardi’s: Don Abney on piano, Frank Capp on drums and either Vernon Alley or Joe Mondragon on bass. Whoever it is, they do a fine job keeping up. But it’s clear that Ella was soaring at her own altitude, then as now.