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The Jazz O’Maniacs : Sunset Café Stomp

The Jazz O’Maniacs, Germany’s answer to New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, document on this CD/DVD their 2005 appearance at BixFest in Racine, Wisc., plus a live recording from-get this-Meyers Ace Hardware in Chicago. The latter venue, a South Side historical landmark, once housed the Sunset Café, where Louis Armstrong played during the 1930s. Based in Hamburg, the Jazz O’Maniacs have been spreading the Satchmo gospel, particularly Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, since 1966. Their founder, leader/cornetist/singer Roland Pilz, is still going strong with the Dixieland octet that features a frontline of cornet, trombone, clarinet and tenor sax, backed by piano, banjo, tuba and washboard with attached woodblocks and cowbells.

It all makes for some happy sounds but unfortunately does not guarantee the drive associated with traditional jazz. When the band reaches a final chorus-this is particularly true on tracks such as “Weary Blues,” “Georgia Bobo,” “Drop That Sack,” “Beer Garden Blues” and “Willie the Weeper”-there is an emotional crescendo that pushes the band into overdrive. That’s a trademark of Dixieland that listeners come to expect, much like the counterpoint that evolves from the frontline. But here there are only hints of such intensity. They’re not sustained; a satisfying climax never happens.

Pilz and trombonist Ullo Bela have the most assured command of their horns. Clarinetist Claus Möller, a last-minute replacement for regular clarinetist Lutz Jordan, hears good ideas but can’t execute them. Pianist Andreas Clement, when he can be heard, is anything but assertive.

The percussive uniqueness of banjo and washboard may give the Jazz O’Maniacs a distinctive sound, but it robs the band of its most fundamental mission: the need to swing. As presently constituted, it don’t mean a thing, except a lot of fun.

Originally Published