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June 2008

Mike Walbridge’s Chicago Footwarmers featuring Kim Cusack
Crazy Rhythm
Delmark Records

Tuba player Mike Walbridge is the epitome of both a regional musician and a period musician. The latter is suggested by his choice of instrument; the most percussive of horns, the tuba has not been in the forefront of music since the onset of electrical recording in 1925. The mid-’20s is a central point in time for Walbridge, whose chosen style is the hot jazz of that day. It’s a choice that has helped keep him more of a working musician than a recording one, which in turn has helped keep him in Chicago. He has been abetted in these efforts by clarinet and alto sax player Kim Cusack. In 1966-67, when Walbridge was approaching 30 and Cusack 20, the pair teamed with banjo player Eddie Lynch and drummer Glen Koch for two sessions that resulted in the LP Hip Flasks & Hotcha! (Blackbird). (Pianist Johnny Cooper joined them for the 1967 session.) Delmark eventually acquired Blackbird and commissioned a new session to bring it up to CD length.

The 70-ish Walbridge and the 60-ish Cusack reconvened with Don Stiernberg on banjo and guitar and Bob Cousins on drums on Aug. 14, 2007, 41 years to the day after the first session. Sequencing those tracks up front was a wise decision. The 2007 Footwarmers are a more easy-going outfit, playing comfortably together on familiar melodies like “Sugar” and “Tin Roof Blues.” At track nine, “Nagasaki,” when the clock turns back four decades, there is a noticeable change. The playing is livelier, more agitated, hotter. Still, the players remain traditionalists, their solos often better called variations on the melody than improvisations. But whatever the year of recording, their affection for the music remains apparent.

Originally published in June 2008
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