While Ďtraditional jazzí is perhaps the most suitable description of the music of TJ Johnsonís Bourbon Kick, the band defied many of the stereotypes of such music.
The front line of two tenor sax / clarinettists plus trombone but no cornet or trumpet is new to me.
Although the repertoire contained New Orleans and Dixieland numbers there were at least as many blues and gospel tunes. There certainly werenít many numbers associated with great musicians like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Bix Beiderbecke. This suited me because frankly I sometimes feel badly let down when I hear the music of these legends played by some trad bands.
For the first time in years I was listening to a trad band in which all the players considerably impressed me. In most trad bands that I hear these days one or two outstanding players dominate the rest.
And then thereís the age of the musicians. Letís just say that most of the Bourbon Kick musicians are far younger than those in most trad bands.
TJ Johnson played drums very well and talked interestingly and humorously to the audience. As the main vocalist, he sang very well, mainly in a dry, undemonstrative fashion.
Karl Hird, an Australian, played tenor sax and clarinet with tremendous drive, that ranged easily between considerable sensitivity and raw passion. In this bandís line up he also frequently played the lead (more usually taken by the trumpet or cornet).
Like Karl, James Evans
, deputising for Adrian Cox, played tenor sax and clarinet and shared the lead role. James had a more distinctive tone and itís no exaggeration to describe some of his playing as exquisite. James also sang quite delightfully on The Lily Of The Valley.
Trombonist Sky Murphy, the youngest member of the band, played with amazing poise and polish. On his gentler solos he achieved a lovely tone. On his more raucous solos his playing was both exciting and controlled. Regardless of his age Sky gave one of the finest trombone performances Iíve heard for years in any style of jazz.
Trevor ĎFingersí Williams, deputising for Jim Ydstie on double bass, provided excellent rhythmic support to the front line - mainly in typical slap bass style - and his occasional solos were lively, well structured, and short. The audience also responded enthusiastically to his one vocal solo, on I Double Dare You.
Eric Webster on banjo really added value to the band. The banjo is the least favourite instrument of those jazz fans who donít particularly care for traditional jazz Ė so they tell me. Perhaps it was his tone Ė not clunky, to use a technical term Ė and lightness of touch that made Ericís playing different. Iím sure another factor was the balance of the whole rhythm section.
My lasting impressions from the concert were:
Sky Murphyís vocal version of Lost Highway. I choose this, not particularly for Skyís pleasant and affecting singing, but because Sky took over Ericís banjo and James played Skyís trombone. Very well in both cases.
The gospel tunes, especially The Lily Of The Valley and Iíll Fly Away, were played and sung with great simplicity that I, as a devout atheist, found very moving.
Since the concert Iíve been listening regularly to The TJ Johnson Band album In The Heat Of The Night. This band has increasingly become TJís main band and Iím sure - with its mixture of Blues, R&B, Jazz, and Country Ė it will be warmly welcomed back to Chichester.