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Ralph Carney: Serious Jass Project

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As far as I am concerned, saxophonist, Ralph Carney has three things going to him no matter what. First, he has played extensively with Tom Waits, one of my all time favorite characters in popular music. Second, he is from Akron, home of poets, Van Jordan, and Rita Dove, suggesting that that Carney understands the working man. And finally, judging by the number of Duke Ellington moments on his album, songs

and associations, Serious Jass Project can’t help but to be strong. Carney is interested in jazz’s traditions here: blues, group unity and personal expression by individual players.

Overall, the album sounds Dixieland but that is just the vibe. This is really a quartet enjoying itself and reinterpreting some of jazz’s singular recordings. But mostly, this is about Duke Ellington.

The band’s first Ellington offering is “Black Beauty,” arguably one of Ellington’s essential tunes, the one that tried to make a statement about the Black American identity. Carney’s version is simple and bouncy; it doesn’t swing hard, but it swings just enough with Carney leading the way. That is followed by the less known, “Rexatious,” a tune credited to long time Ellington trumpeter, Rex Stewart. “Rexatious” is bouncy as well, the solos are short, and tight, the Dixieland vibe is intact. “Jeep Blues” is here as well, and Carney resists trying a Johnny Hodges imitation. That is smart considering that Hodges owned the tune when he was in the Ellington band. Carney presents a call and response version of the tune with organist, Michael McIntosh providing the best moments.

There is an abundance of good music on Serious Jass Project, (“Backtrackin'” and “Boogie’s the Thing,” are especially uplifting) but the Ellington numbers carry the day. Carney honks and soars and his band follows his lead. They play the songs as if they have been playing them for years. The album is its own statement, a traditional take on tradition.

Originally Published