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Craig Handy: Craig Handy and 2nd Line Smith

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Craig Handy - Craig Handy and 2nd Line SmithEven before the enormous, dry and fat tone of Craig Handy starts to solo on Craig Handy and 2nd Line Smith the rollicking swing of exuberant, almost intoxicating New Orleans jive begins. It is heard in the first chords of “Minor Chant,” a chart that sets the mood for the rest of this astonishing album. Immediately there is also a concern whether there will be enough locomotion to last the whole album through, but that worry dies a quick death. Mr. Handy has conceived this tribute to New Orleans in the grand manner. First he brings the imposing sound his big tenor to bear on a clutch of wisely chosen charts. Then there is his ensemble: a roaring Hammond B3 played by Kyle Koehler, a growling sousaphone—a smart substitute for an acoustic bass—handled with aplomb by Clark Gayton; then three great drummers: Jason Marsalis, Herlin Riley and Ali Jackson, all of whom play perfect time and pulse, and handle the marching repertoire with joyful abandon. The guitar chair is handled by Matt Chertkoff and the piano is hardly missed; not that there would be on in a 2nd line Smith. Guests: Wynton Marsalis on trumpet on “Got My Mojo Working” and vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Clarence Spady sing as if their lives depended on it and of course Mr. Handy arranges it all with the sure touch of a master.

Mr. Handy solos on each of the charts and each time he does his voice sounds ecstatic. His dramatic turn on “Organ Grinder’s Song” is the epitome of perfection. His tone is appropriately, and by turns, rough and raspy and tender and always masterful. On “I Almost Lost My Mind,” the chart by Baron of the Boogie, Ivory Joe Hunter, Mr. Handy excels himself as he seems in complete control of the melancholy tempo and also the rust-like colours that seem to waft from out of the bell of his horn. Moreover there seems no better example of playing that penetrates the subtle beauty of New Orleans. This also seems to be the perfect chart to set the ensemble up for the rawhide of “High Heel Sneakers” that takes off upon the clarion call from Mr. Gayton’s sousaphone. It’s all mighty blowing and jitterbugging after that. On a serious note, however, Craig Handy has created one of the most sensationally up-beat homage to New Orleans. There is virtuoso playing and playing with sophistication and also big hearts. Visual imagery of the New Orleans of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, and Buddy Bolden before them ordains the music and just when it is expected that the music might come undone and turn mouldy fig, Matt Chertkoff steps on the wah-wah pedal and away goes the band, aided and abetted by dramatic accents by Mr. Gayton’s sousaphone take over and brighten up the proceedings.

Vocalists would be de rigueur in the New Orleans of a 2nd line and the merriment of the carnival atmosphere is upheld with cool by both Dee Dee Bridgewater, who is sublime “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and by Clarence Spady on “Mojo Working”. And finally Clark Gayton has his say with a loose and sassy solo on “Mellow Mood,” something he shares with Matt Chertkoff, who slides in before Mr. Gayton hits warp speed. Credit must however go to Craig Handy—who has his final say on “I’ll Close My Eyes” with utter beauty—for shepherding this exquisite album, which is destined for classic status, all things considered.

Track List: Minor Chant; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Organ Grinder’s Swing; I Almost Lost My Mind; High Heel Sneakers; Ready ‘n Able; O.G.D. aka Road Song; Mojo Workin’; Mellow Mood; I’ll Close My Eyes.

Personnel: Craig Handy: tenor saxophone; Kyle Koehler: Hammond B3; Matt Chertkoff: guitar; Clark Gayton: sousaphone; Jason Marsalis: drums; Herlin Riley: drums; Ali Jackson: drums; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet; Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocals; Clarence Spady: vocal.

Label: Sony Masterworks—OKeh | Release date: January 2014

Website: craighandy.com | Buy music on: amazon

About Craig Handy

Craig Mitchell Handy (born 1962) is an American post-bop tenor saxophonist. Born in Oakland, California, Handy attended North Texas State University from 1981 to 1984, and following this played with Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Haynes, Abdullah Ibrahim, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, Betty Carter, George Adams, Ray Drummond, Conrad Herwig, Dee Dee Bridgewater, David Weiss… (Source: wikipedia.org)

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