Stingy Brim’s cover states that guitarist Johnnie Valentino wanted the album to pay tribute to the bygone days of the tuba’s role as the keeper of the bass line in jazz. With that description, and a CD title coming from an old style of hat, one might think this album would fit comfortably next to your Leon Redbone collection.
But with all respect to the man in the white suit, don’t you believe it.
Valentino, whose discography includes an intriguing entry called Eight Shorts in Search of David Lynch, has created another captivating work that combines an organ trio with clarinet, tenor sax and tuba that straddles its role as the bass with melodic duties. Sometimes the combination of timbres or rhythms recalls old-time jazz, but Valentino’s writing could only come from a current era. “Oyster Bay” begins with a New Orleans groove, but the group switches to a rich, brooding drone when Bob Sheppard takes a tenor solo. “Return” and “Off Balance,” both cowritten by Valentino and organist Mick Rossi, stray into free territory, with Rossi adding harmonium to the latter in an effort to evoke an accordion run. “Coyote Cowboy” sustains a western drone for eight minutes, getting the most out of Randy Jones’ tuba.
Although Valentino takes a fair share of solos, he mostly keeps the spotlight on his collaborators —the sign of a good leader and a good session.