Marty Grosz Quartet: Just For Fun!

Like Eddie Condon, one of his early mentors, acoustic guitarist and vocalist Marty Grosz has always preferred playing in small combos. The present occasion, as recorded live in Hamburg’s Amerika Haus, is no different in that respect from the many stateside sessions he has recorded over the years under such fanciful names as Destiny’s Tots, the Hot Cosmopolites, the Orphan Newsboys, the Paswonky Serenaders, and the Collector’s Item Cats, the latter a sobriquet he stole from an exceedingly obscure 1940 78 by Wild Bill Davison and Boyce Brown. So much for his literarily arcane, jazzlore-rich wit, which has also, invariably to his admirers’ delight, graced the liner notes of equally well-informed jazz recordings.

Featured with Grosz on this overseas progress through tunes both familiar and rarely tried are trumpeter Alan Elsdon and baritonist, altoman, and clarinetist Johnny Barnes, both longstanding veterans of the British trad scene, and Australian-born bassist Murray Wall, now a well-established New York-based mainstreamer. A master of the plunger mute, Elsdon throughout summons up memories of Muggsy Spanier and Cootie Williams, while Barnes has long been considered one of the best baritone players of any nationality to master the full-bodied, booming, Adrian Rollini-Ernie Caceres approach to the lower ensemble voice.

Grosz’s vocals are, as always, models of their kind, with the joint influence of Fats Waller’s rent-party humor and Red McKenzie’s highly personal synthesis of jazz phrasing and melodramatic pathos never far from the surface. For an example of the latter, listen to “Just Friends,” one of Red’s early hits. Elsdon takes the vocal on “Sweethearts On Parade,” while Barnes emotes with similar effectiveness on “If I Had A Talking Picture Of You,” a parody of an early ’30s Bing Crosby number that even includes a half-chorus in German. Other tunes include “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” Waller’s “How Can You Face Me?” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “It’s The Talk Of The Town,” “Mood Indigo,” “A Hundred Years From Today,” “Memphis Blues” and “The Lady Is In Love With You.”