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Tim Laughlin and Jack Maheu: Swing That Music

Long a fixture on the New Orleans scene, 32-year-old clarinetist Tim Laughlin is a confident improviser in the traditional vein, with not only a warm, round sound but also the contrapuntal skills to engage one of the most challenging contexts extant, the two-clarinet front line. Here, he is in equally fine company with New Orleans-based veteran Jack Maheu and contemporary Tom Fischer. With pianist John Royen, guitarist Hank Mackie, bassist Al Bernard and drummer Hal Smith common to both albums, the only significant difference between the two lies in the approaches taken by the respective front-line mates.

Laughlin and Maheu open with Bechet’s “The Fish Vendor” and proceed through “Creole Love Call,” “High Society” and “The Mooche,” which like its Soprano Summit model, is a spine-tingler. Following a sprightly Royen/Smith duo treatment of “It’s All Right With Me,” we hear Laughlin’s slow, gospel-inspired “Blue Orleans,” the Sop Sum-based “Panama,” Maheu’s tour de force on “My Inspiration,” the jointly rewarding “Old Fashioned Love” and “Swing That Music,” a superior outing for both soloists. Admittedly, some may find it difficult to tell the two Irving Fazola- influenced clarinetists apart, but keen ears will detect Laughlin’s many allusions to Kenny Davern, a distinguishing feature that will invariably rule out Maheu.

Identification is not as much of a problem on New Orleans Swing, as Fischer also doubles on alto and soprano, thus providing ample opportunities to hear Laughlin as the undisputed single clarinetist. A boon on both albums, Smith especially excels on Laughlin’s jazz march, “King Of The Mardi Gras,” as does his mate, Bernard, on “Shine.” Other highlights include Royen’s “Little Rock Getaway,” Tim’s “Memories Of You,” the a capella clarinets and drum/bass kicking on “Ice Cream” and the closing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which might just be Tim’s and Tom’s finest tribute to Davern.

Originally Published