Umlaut Big Band

The King of Bungle Bar
Umlaut Records UMFR CD 29

Leave it to the French. At least that’s the sentiment that should be expressed when listening to this sophisticated and swinging 74-minute CD. Lead by alto saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux, the 14-piece Paris-based Umlaut Big Band has created a proper salute to American composer/arranger/alto saxophonist Don Redman (1900-1964), who more than any other individual was responsible for creating the historic big band sound of the first third of the 20th Century.

Although he also led his own band, it was Redman’s 1920s and 1930s arrangements for first Fletcher Henderson’s band then McKinney’s Cotton Pickers that he is best remembered and the Gallic aggregation runs through brief versions of his “hits”. Adding versions of arrangements Redman also did for the likes of Count Basie and Jimmy Dorsey, Badaroux expands the understanding of Redman’s artistic facility by having the band play several tunes he transcribed for it from manuscript in the arranger’s papers stored in the New York Public Library.

Considering most of the 28 [!] tracks are in the two-to-three minute range, there’s not much room for the soloists, all of whom are otherwise affiliated with Jazz and improvised music. But the intermezzos are wide enough to allow for so-called hot breaks contributed by the likes of trumpeter Louis Laurain with an ascending swoop on “Feeling the Way I Do”, Badaroux and clarinetist Geoffroy Gesser intertwined on “Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble”, hustling, Gene Krupa-like sock and smack from drummer Antonin Gerbal on “Mickey Finn” plus plunger work from trumpeter Emil Strandberg; and Benjamin Dousteyssier doing polished Jimmy Dorsey-like flutter tonguing on “Flight of the Jitterbug”. As well pianist Bruno Ruder and guitar/banjoist Romain Vuillemin are meticulously proficient, providing note-perfect accompaniment and a few simple solos on tunes that contain Louis Armstrong or Jelly Roll Morton inflections from the early 1920s, to the contemporary swing of Count Basie and Redman’s original concepts in the 1950s.

While some of the breaks such as trumpet wails and reed stutters as well as a group vocal on “Auld Lang Syne” appear a little dated in the 21st century, Redman’s chameleon-like arranging talent, and the band’s reflection of it, are substantiated by tracks where his orchestrations mirror distinct styles without fissure. “Whiteman Stomp” stomps all right but adds sly digs at the clunky pianism and reed glissandi that characterized the real Paul Whiteman band style. “Chant of the Weed”, Redman’s most famous composition, is given a sophisticated reading contrasting Antonin-Tri Hoang’s silky alto saxophone with drum punctuation and muted derby-hat-like fanning from the brass that would introduce a theatrical stage show. Meanwhile the more abstruse “Cupid's Nightmare” showcases trumpeter Laurin’s open-horn elaboration of the theme punctuated by the military-like precision of reed-brass call-and-response and is luminously summed up by Fidel Fourneyron’s trombone vibrations. Even more impressive are the harmonies on some of Redman’s brief 1950s unrecorded compositions, usually played by the entire group, which elaborate big band swing by the man who practically invented it.

The King of Bungle Bar is a significant CD as it’s both historically accurate and also highlighting swinging good-time and sophisticated music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Have it Ready - 1st fragment 2. Feeling the Way I Do 3. Sugar Font Stomp 4. Have it Ready - 2nd fragment 5. T.N.T. 6. Hot Mustard 7. Have it Ready - 3rd fragnent 8. Rocky Mountain Blues 9. Whiteman Stomp 10. 10 Have it Ready 11. Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble 12. Chant of the Weed 13. Redman Rhythm 14. Sophisticated Lady 15. Auld Lang Syne 16. Milenberg Joys 17. Cupid's Nightmare 18. Flight of the Jitterbug 19. Just an Old Manuscript 20. Frantic Atlantic 21. Mickey Finn 22. More Dirt 23. Kashmiri Song 24. Dance of the Taxicabs - from Etudes-Caprices 25. Washington, D.C. - from Etudes-Caprices 26. A Young Man's Fancy - from Etudes-Caprices 27. Penthouse Alley 28. What's the Trouble?

Personnel: Brice Pichard, Louis Laurain, Emil Strandberg (trumpet); Fidel Fourneyron, Michaël Ballue (trombone): Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto saxophone); Antonin-Tri Hoang (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Geoffroy Gesser (tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet); Pierre Borel (tenor saxophone, clarinet): Benjamin Dousteyssier (alto, baritone, bass saxophones); Bruno Ruder (piano); Romain Vuillemin (guitar, banjo); Sébastien Beliah (bass); Antonin Gerbal (drums)