(Johnnie Valentino, guitar/mandolin; Mick Rossi, B-3/harmonium/ percussion; Mark Ferber, drums/percussion; Bob Sheppard, clarinet/tenor sax; Randy Jones, tuba)
Composer/arranger/guitarist/mandolinist Johnnie Valentino has a good sense of humor about most of life, and central to his life are his Italian-American background and the traditions of jazz. In one of his previous CDs – Eight Shorts in Search of David Lynch – he employed tuba. He realized that last year was the 100th anniversary of the demise of the tuba as the low-end bass line in early jazz (replaced by the double bass – although it continued to be used on recordings until the advent of electrical recording in 1925 because it cut thru the deficiencies of acoustic recording in the low end). So he put together this tuba/clarinet/B-3 quintet, and wrote ten tunes which are propelled by a feeling of New Orleans’ second-line backbeat rhythms, but which wouldn’t be mistaken for traditional jazz by any means.
The hat with the stingy brim just seems to go with the tuba, according to Valentino. It reminds him of the Philly community in which he grew up, and in which such a hat was required attire for men. He also feels the sound of the tuba playing the bass line can’t help but make you happy. With tune titles such as the album’s title song, Dog Eggs, and Stone Balloons, it becomes clear that a little of the comedic is part of Valentino’s musical style. Another unusual instrumental addition to the quintet is the reed harmonium, alternating with the B-3 on some of the tunes, such as Coyote Cowboy. The instrument reminds Valentino of Italian roots music on accordion and clarinet, but also carries hints of hymn accompaniment in the early Wild West, and even a Kurt Weill-sort of cabaret tone.
This is great stuff – basically melodic and optimistic-sounding, but venturing into some highly individual and fairly deep grooves. After absorbing it a bit – especially on a speaker system capable of handling those lowest frequencies properly – you may wish there was a way to at least temporarily substitute tuba for double bass on many of your favorite jazz recordings just to hear how it might sound!
TrackList: Stingy Brim, Dog Eggs, Oyster Bay, 4M, Return, Stone Balloons, Where When & How, Coyote Cowboy, Off Balance, All Monk’s Children
– John Henry