NEW BLACK EAGLE JAZZ BAND    

Together since 1971.
Playing the best in New Orleans style Jazz, Gospel and Blues.



CD REVIEWS

MISSING PIECES (BE(CD)2014)

Recorded: on various dates between 2011 and 2016 in several locations
Total playing time: 65mins


Collective Personnel: Tony Pringle, cornet, vocals*; Billy Novick, clarinet, vocal**; Stan Vincent, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano; Peter Bullis, banjo; Jesse Williams, bass; Bill Reynolds, drums; Herb Gardner, piano†; Bob Nieske, bass†

Track Listing: Moose March; Tomorrow Night*; Red Man Blues; Beale Street Blues†**; Black Eagle Skuffle; Memories†; I'll Fly Away†; Bienville Blues; Iko Iko*; We'll Be Together Again [duet between Billy Novick and Jesse Williams]; Weary Blues.

Recording Locations:
Tracks 1- 3, 5, 8-9, and 11 recorded at the Johnson Theater, University of New Hampshire on Sep. 9, 2013
Tracks 4 and 6-7 recorded at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts, Plymouth, MA, on Nov. 12, 2016
Track 10 recorded at the Johnson Theater, University of New Hampshire on Jan. 31, 2011


Two years from now the New Black Eagle Jazz Band will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Over the course of this half century there have been, almost inevitably, several changes in personnel, but despite that the band's "sound" has remained constant due in large part to the distinctive cornet styling of the leader, Tony Pringle, aided by the steady pulse supplied by Peter Bullis on banjo, the two musicians who were, as the back inlay says, "the soul and backbone of the band for forty-seven years." The back line has always provided a rhythmic, but light, 4-beat base on which the front line could dance, regardless of whether the bass instrument was brass or string. The rhythm was-and is-never ponderous, one on which the inimitable Pringle led the ensemble on cornet. So it was a significant blow to the band when both of these stalwarts passed away during the last year, and in part the album's title, Missing Pieces, is an acknowledgment of this -Pringle and Bullis are the missing pieces, as Billy Novick intimates in the brief note on the CD insert. The title also alludes to the previously unreleased recordings (hence "missing pieces") of songs from three concerts, again according to the note.

In an email to me, Billy Novick further commented on the tunes included on this disc, saying that although most have been issued previously on other NBEJB CDs, these are the only ones to have the latest band personnel which included Pringle and Bullis, and as one can hear these renditions differ quite clearly from previous ones, as one would expect given different personnel. When it came to tune selection for the band's book or for inclusion on a recording, the decision was a cooperative one, everyone having input which was heeded. As Novick puts it,"Everyone agreed that we should have high standards and that the tunes should 'feel right.'"

Two of the tunes appear for the first time on a NBEJB recording: I'll Fly Away and Bienville Blues. The first is a spiritual that has become increasing popular with New Orleans bands these last few years and was a favorite of Pringle's, Novick tells us, here finally appearing on record ("about time," Pringle might say) by the band. The other, Bienville Blues (better known perhaps as Storyville Blues), is given a very improvisational treatment, making it virtually a "new" but interesting tune.

Of the other tracks, many are not too often heard by the NBEJB-or any other bands, for that matter. Lonnie Johnson made Tomorrow Night his theme song, giving it a blues treatment, but few bands seem to have picked it up and I must confess it is not in my top twenty. Red Man Blues is taken at a fairly brisk tempo compared to other recordings of it by the band, but it is still a captivating tune, although here it is lacking the "Indian tom tom" effect that Pam Pameijer used to give it. On two previous CDs Black Eagle Skuffle, a band original, was included, but I have not heard it done by any other band. Quite a few bands, however, have added the Mardi Gras Indian tune Iko Iko to their book of late, although it has been around for several decades since it was a hit for the Dixie Cups female vocal group back in the sixties and covered by rock and pop singers and groups thereafter. It was previously recorded once by the NBEJB in 1992.

And that brings us to the "outlier": We'll Be Together Again. In his email Novick informed me that this number was not planned to be in the concert or on the CD. As he said in the email:

It was done fairly spontaneously. Jesse didn't even know the tune, so I wrote out the chords for him during the intermission. Both Tony and Peter were very supportive of my doing things outside the New Orleans realm, and audiences seemed to enjoy the "digression." After we finished playing it, Tony came up to the mic and told the audience "That was absolutely beautiful- a bit different" ...and then, of course, did his Tony chuckle. I actually have him recorded saying that and was going to let the track keep going up to that point it but I decided it was too schmaltzy. But this cut was my personal tribute and musical farewell to them [Pringle and Bullis].

One might argue that it is not jazz, but at the same time one must agree that it is very beautiful. Novick's variations are extremely moving against the most sympathetic backing of Williams on string bass; fortunately-and appropriately-it was included on this CD.

These recordings may well be the last on which Pringle and Bullis appear with the New Back Eagles, unless perhaps others are found in the band archives and are deemed worthy of release. This CD, Missing Pieces, is a well-deserved tribute to these two musicians whose presence in the band will be sorely missed. It engenders images never more to be seen of Pringle, slightly hunched, cornet pointed down, squeezing the notes from his horn and Bullis, seated, red socks prominently on display as he strums his banjo. All fans of the New Black Eagles Jazz Band will want to have this album.

Bert Thompson, Just Jazz magazine, UK


CELEBRATING THE BIG 40 (BE(CD)4001/2/3)

Recorded: on various dates between Nov. 1971 and Jan. 2011 in several locations
Total playing time: 3hrs, 22mins


Collective Personnel: Tony Pringle, cornet, vocal; Doc Cheatham, trumpet; Billy Novick, clarinet, alto sax; Tommy Sancton, clarinet; Hugh Blackwell, clarinet, alto sax, soprano sax; Brian Williams, clarinet; Brian Ogilvie, clarinet; Stan McDonald, clarinet; Stan Vincent, trombone; Jerry Zigmont, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano; Peter Bullis, banjo; Jesse Williams, bass; Barry Bockus, bass; Don Kenney, bass; Eli Newberger, tuba; C. H. “Pam” Pameijer, drums; David Hurst, drums; Billy Reynolds, drums

BE(CD)4001: Folsom Prison Blues; Memories; Special Delivery Blues; Bogalusa Strut; Long, Deep, and Wide; White Ghost Shivers; Misty Morning; Diga Diga Doo; Tree Top Tall Papa; Dreaming the Hours Away; One for the Guv’nor.
BE(CD)4002: Tipi Tin; Chimes Blues; Rosetta; Jelly Bean Blues; Shake It and Break It; Red Man Blues; Dusty Rag; All Night Shags; Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland; Copenhagen.
BE(CD)4003: Louisian-I-A; Working Man Blues; Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone; In the Sweet Bye and Bye; Climax Rag; Home; Delia’s Gone; When I Leave the World Behind; Out of the Galleon; Papa Dip; Joe Avery’s Piece.

There can’t be many traditional jazz fans who have not heard of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band from New England— after all, they have been around for forty years, such an anniversary being marked with the release of this CD set as well as a celebration held at the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts, on September 18, 2011. They have recorded prolifically and also toured extensively, having “played many times in Europe, Canada, all over USA, and in Singapore,” as we are told on the band’s website.

If any reader is unfamiliar with the band, then this set will be an excellent introduction. For the rest of us, it is a fine supplement to whatever NBEJB CD’s are on our shelves since none of the tracks have been released previously and a good number of the titles do not appear on any other of the band’s CD’s.

Over the four decades the band’s personnel has been remarkably stable. Five have been members since the first year (1971) and are still present—Pringle, Bullis, Vincent, Pilsbury, and Pameijer—and Novick has been part of the group since 1986. Newberger was a member for the first thirty years. Subs. also are “steady,” the result being that they can slip seamlessly into their respective chairs. So the band has been blessed with relatively little turnover. There’s not much that can be said about the band that has not been said before, and what we have in this set of CD’s is a tour of the band’s history, beginning on the first CD with a selection from a very recent performance and then tracing back through the years to the last track on the third CD: a performance from the first year of the band’s existence— 1971.

From the most recent track to that early one, the band gives a superlative performance. Almost every tune is played with a pulsating four beat, even on the fastest numbers, the rhythm section providing a solid base for the front line. While there are solos, the emphasis is on ensemble, as befits the New Orleans style. Add to this attention to dynamics, especially on the out choruses that build and build and build some more, and the constant shouts of approval and encouragement soloists are given by the other musicians, and the result is tremendous excitement and tension. It is difficult to stay in one’s chair, and at the very least one’s foot will be tapping furiously. Most of the songs have a duration of at least five to six minutes, but one is hardly aware of that, being so swept up in the music.

Tempting as it is to say something about each track, I have to resist and mention just a few highlights. The opening track of CD1, Folsom Prison Blues, does Johnny Cash proud. It also clearly illustrates the excitement I just spoke of, resulting from that driving four-beat rhythm, and it gets the proceedings off to a rousing start. (I should also add that most of the tracks are live performances, and one can hear the audience response at the end of the track—they, too, were obviously caught up.) Also from this CD, Diga Diga Doo contains some fine riffing behind the sax solo, followed by a dramatic drop in volume in the next chorus to provide great contrast and interest. The last track, One for the Guv’nor, is a very nice Pringle original in tribute to the late Ken Colyer. Why this tune has not been picked up by other bands (other than the Albion, of which Pringle is the cornetist) is a mystery to me.

On CD2, Jelly Bean Blues is a standout, played “down” in all senses—volume low, clarinet in chalumeau register, tuba searching for the lowest note possible. The piano solo is so typical of Pilsbury. Everyone lays out but he, and while he plays a “broken” rhythm, he never loses his place, but has one hanging on his every note. One could hear a pin drop during his solo. Time passes unnoticed here, so captivating is the rendition even though it is ten minutes long! This is the first track in the set to have Newberger on tuba for the bass, and it should be said at once that his tuba playing in no way impeded the drive of the four-beat rhythm but rather contributed to it. So often—perhaps even most often—the tuba in a band plays two-beat. But Newberger almost always maintains the four-beat, even during the fastest tempos, clearly illustrating that he had mastered circular breathing since he never once stops, in any tune, to take a breath. Another fine rendition of a tune is that given Red Man Blues. The rhythm section is immaculate here, especially the tuba and drums.

The last CD, which takes us back to the band’s beginnings, has a number of standouts for me. In the Sweet Bye and Bye swings mightily, the musicians calling out approbation and encouragement to each other, followed by a neat duet between cornet and banjo, the others all having laid out. The band then makes its way back to ensemble, Pameijer having throughout punctuated the tune with judicious tom tom fills, the whole swinging to and through its coda. And since I mentioned the very first, most recent, track on the first CD, it is fitting to comment on the last, which is actually the earliest, on this CD. Few will not have heard Joe Avery’s Piece, but probably not as it is done here. The tempo is brisk, and the interest in the piece is heightened by the several instruments—tuba and especially drums—following the banjo’s lead of playing the stop time rhythm behind the rest of the ensemble or the soloist. All great fun.

So there it is—a superb three-CD set to commemorate the four-decade anniversary of a superb band. While I don’t know how many copies were made, I should think they will go fast.

Bert Thompson, Just Jazz magazine, UK


NOTHING BUT THE BLUES (BE(CD)2013)

Recorded: in Concord, Massachusetts, Apr. 26, 2009.
Total playing time: 63mins


Personnel: (a) Tony Pringle, cornet, vocal*; Bill Novick, clarinet, alto sax, vocal†; Stan Vincent, trombone; Bob Pilsbury, piano, vocal‡; Peter Bullis, banjo; Barry Bockus, string bass; Bill Reynolds, drums.
(b) as (a) but Duke Robillard, guitar, replaces Bullis
(c) Novick, clarinet, and Pilsbury, piano
(d) Pilsbury, piano; Pringle, cornet; Robillard, guitar
(e) as (a) plus Robillard, guitar


BE(CD)4001: Misty Morning (b); Mahogany Hall Stomp (b); Riverside Blues (a); Sonora’s Blues(c); Choo Choo Ch’Boogie† (a); Tia Juana Man (b); When the Sun Goes Down*(b); Don’t Start No Stuff* (a); Sportin’ Life‡ (d); Yellow Dog Blues (a); Nothing Blues* (e); Steal Away (a); KC Moan* (a); Joe Avery’s Piece (a)

Like “jazz,” the term “blues” does not admit of a single, precise, concise definition. Contrary to what some people believe, blues are not necessarily slow and mournful; as Billie Holiday said in an introduction to a blues number she was about to sing, “There are sad blues and there are happy blues.” One can also add that there are slow blues and fast blues—and even medium tempo blues. There are so-called “classic” 12-bar blues and the perhaps more often encountered 16-bar blues (but interestingly these proportions are reversed on this album as ten of the fourteen tunes are 12-bar blues). The New Black Eagles embrace all of these variations on this thematic album dedicated to the blues. (There was a previous one for “gospels.” Will “country” be next?)

For good measure the band also engaged the services of Duke Robillard, the blues guitarist from Rhode Island, who is well known in blues circles as leader of several bands, including Roomful of Blues, and member of some others. He has recorded over 60 albums, as soloist and as leader of his own bands and with other bands and artists, many of these albums being on the Rounder and Stony Plain labels. All of the other members are, to use Condon’s term, the “usual suspects,” except for Reynolds’ substituting for Pameijer on drums. However, since he has subbed on numerous other occasions, he fills in seamlessly.

The opening track, Ellington’s Misty Morning, a medium tempo blues, immediately sets the tone. The pulse of the rhythm section is awesome. Bockus’ string bass and Robillard’s chording on acoustic guitar (which he plays throughout the CD), coupled with Pilsbury’s piano and Reynolds’ subtle drumming provide a solid platform for the front line. The piece opens with two ensemble choruses, followed by muted cornet and clarinet solos. Robillard then plays a couple of masterful single string choruses, followed by piano, and then the ensemble out-choruses, which end with a concise retard.

After this most satisfying opening, the listener is then regaled for the rest of the 60-odd minutes with a musical feast. As the tune list shows, there are those numbers that are familiar and those that are less so, among the latter being Sonora’s Blues, an original by Billy Novick, and Nothing Blues, a composition by my fellow Scot, the late clarinetist Sandy Brown. On this recording of this tune, a cooker, Robillard is joined by Bullis on banjo, making a 5-man rhythm section, which rocks behind the front line and Pringle’s vocal. Don’t Start No Stuff may look unfamiliar, but on hearing it one will recognize Shake That Thing—which, however, has different lyrics. Another seldom-heard piece is the Blythe/Dodds composition Steal Away, which is not to be confused with the spiritual Steal Away [Home to Jesus].

Butch Thompson has contributed the useful liner notes we have come to expect from him. He presents some interesting insights on the blues and the band’s approach to them, as well as data on each of the tunes on the album. To sum up, this is a CD that will appeal to all traditional jazz aficionados.

Bert Thompson, Just Jazz magazine, UK