The Church Alley Irregulars
Boxells Jazz Website - Internet
So I said to Big Bill Bissonnette, the big brave boss of
Jazz Crusade, seeing as you often use Geoff Cole, Tony Pyke and other
ex-Colyer sidesmen and also Norman Thatcher (who is stylistically similar
to Colyer), why not put them together and re-create a Ken Colyer band?
He came back: Oi vey, have I got a deal for you my boy! Yes,
well, notquite what he said, and nor is the band quite as I imagined it
as Bill likes a four man frontline and couldnt resist putting another
Brit, Brian Carrick, in as the second reedsman.
I must admit I got a trifle sidetracked as I was somewhat bemused by Norman
Thatchers playing: now on trumpet as opposed to cornet, he had changed
his style to a more punchy one, there were fewer prolonged notes and he
wasnt shewing the same tonal shading that he normally displays.
I dug out earlier recordings of his and yes, the style has changed, though
the most drastic change has been in the past year or so. Is it deliberate?
Did he change because this band has an extended frontline and he wanted
to give the sax player some air? Was it just that he just
feel like a change? I pondered and pondered. Then I remembered: I was
supposed to be reviewing the CD and not analysing the trumpet player.
Having decided to blank my mind to the fact that it was Norman on trumpet,
I went back to the CD and found out just what an excellent album it was.
It is a scratch band, though many of them have played together for years
in other bands, so they are not strangers to each other. The quality of
the frontline is such that they never trip over each other and the interweaving
of the reeds is something to listen out for (as is the fun in picking
out who is on what instrument). The back line is not to be scoffed at
either, especially with the unmistakable bass playing of ex-Colyer sidesman
Annie Hawkins driving things along.
No, not quite what I expected, but well worth owning and playing regularly.
Did I mention just how exquisite their version of Dallas Blues
was? There some interesting interplay on Church Alley Blues,
and then there is the joy of listening to.
- Geoff Boxell
JazzReview.com - Internet Jazz Publication
Jazz Crusade president, Big Bill Bissonnette, began a recording
project a decade ago. His intent was to preserve on disk, some of Britains
finest traditional jazz players. The United Kingdom has long been a bastion
of hot jazz activity since the end of the Second World War.
Jazz fans happily recall the great noises made by Freddy Randall, Joe
Daniels, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wallis and Ken Colyer in a period when
such music was considered old-fashioned in North America.
Fans of the idiom today are still very much a minority but we are loyal
and spend our greenbacks freely just to get that hot jazz fix. Bissonnette
gathered some of the musicians he had successfully recorded before and
a few new ones. This session takes place at Church Alley in Nottingham.
Here are The Church Alley Irregulars and youll enjoy this tasty
assembly of Brits.
Norman Thatcher was the leader of the renowned Ken Colyer Trust Band and
one of the hottest trumpet men on the UK scene. Clarinetist Brian Carrick
has probably appeared on more Jazz Crusade disks than any other British
musician and with just cause. Two other regulars on the label are trombonist
Geoff Cole and reedman Tony Pyke. New to my ears are the fine sounds of
pianist Malcolm Hogarth, banjoist Malcolm Hurrell and drummer Dion Cochrane.
Ive heard bassist Annie Hawkins before and shes an outstanding
player in her own modest way. Annie bows and slaps in perfect time and
This band has a wonderful ability to swing and a prime example is their
seven minute version of the classic Move The Body Over. In contrast, the
octet tackles an unlikely choice, the vintage Magic Is The Moonlight,
a latin tune from an obscure 1944 movie titled Bathing Beauty. The two
clarinetists, Carrick and Pyke double on tenor and alto with great results.
Im reminded of the great Australian bands of the fifties featuring
Lazy Ade Monsbrough. Thatchers hot trumpet is strong
throughout the session and the perfect rhythm section gets
If you like hot jazz, this record is a very good choice. A nice companion
volume is Jazz Crusades Reprise featuring the Church Alley Irregulars
and Brian Carricks Heritage Jazz Quartet. The Irregulars
play an additional nine tunes from the session including The Curse Of
An Aching Heart, Bugle Call Blues and What Am I Living For.
- Richard Bourcier
Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine
Trombonist and record label owner Big Bill Bissonnette (known
as B3) had long wanted to record the front-line he considered
the 'star' front men of British Traditional jazz - Brian Carrick, Geoff
Cole, Norman Thatcher and Tony Pyke. In February this year, in Nottingham,
he got his chance and managed to back them with an almost equally star-studded
rhythm section. The result is exactly what he'd hoped for - two very enjoyable
CDs, the contents of which are almost like an intimate evening at your
local club with an all-star band the likes of which few, if any, clubs
The stars are obviously the front-line. Carrick's wonderful, sometimes
George Lewis-inspired clarinet and Manny Paul-like tenor, are well-known,
but what is often overlooked is that Brian is also one of the finest original
lyrical improvisers we have ever had. He's a jazz giant, and we should
cherish him. He was on very fine form the two days of this set. Geoff
Cole's trombone is equally important to British jazz. Inspired, rhythmic,
often lyrical and always full of good taste, he plays for the band and
weaves some wonderful musical stories. There are few better than Geoff-
indeed, if any. Tony Pyke - on clarinet or alto sax - is almost as equally
lyrical and fits well with the others. His clarinet contributions when
two clarinets are featured, is masterful. Norman Thatcher's trumpet work
is a taste some listeners will need to work on, but he acquits himself
well throughout, driving the band with gusto and Kid Thomas-like staccato
statements. It is, however, the two reedmen and Mr. Cole who, to me, are
the stars here - they drive - they inspire and, above all they play for
each other, making intricate patterns that are a great joy to follow.
Let's not, however, forget the super rhythm section, all of whom perform
faultlessly throughout what must have been long sessions - they produced
45 tracks after all! I'm not going to single anyone out -they are all
stars - to perform at this level; with that front-line, they had to be.
Question - should you buy these CDs? If you, like me, love Brian Carrick's
work, then the answer is yes. If you can only manage one, have the second
- to me, the band 'clicks' more on those tracks.
- Brian Harvey
Jazz Gazette - Internet Jazz Publication
Cooking is the art of bringing together different ingredients
in order to obtain an enjoyable and tasteful meal. The same can be said
of organising a recording session. When we listen to the music on these
CDs we must come to the conclusion that Big Bill Bissonnette is a great
cook. Like the name of the band tells us, this is not a regular group.
It was the first time they played together and it may, unfortunately,
never happen again. What Bill did was bring together some of his favourite
British front liners and rhythm section men. With the exception of two
(Hurrel and Hogarth) all had recorded before for Jazz Crusade but never
in this combination. The chemistry worked perfectly and the results are
not just good, but excellent. Because the four horn men are all bandleaders
one could have expected a clash of egos. Nothing like that, they
worked together in perfect harmony. They are all firm believers in playing
for the benefit of the band. The contrasting clarinet styles of both reed
men and the fact that one doubles on tenor sax, the other one on alto
sax, results in a lot of different sound colours. Norman Thatcher has
developed a completely individual style in which I detect influences of
Kid Thomas and Dede Pierce, while his delicate muted playing reminds me
of Percy Humphreys whispering choruses. We hear also
snatches of early Louis (Perdido Street Blues and St.Louis
Blues). Geoff Cole is a master in all traditional jazz styles with
many years of experience, both as a sideman and as a leader. Here he often
shows his Kid Ory roots (St.Louis Blues), but most of the
time he is just his original self. I already expressed my high esteem
for Brian Carrick at the start of this review. In Tony Pike he has a worthy
companion and to hear them dovetail together is a musical joy of high
order. It takes a superb rhythm section to work with such an exceptional
front line and that is exactly what we have here. All four are doing a
great job but I want to mention especially Annie Hawkins creative
way of playing the double bass without departing one inch from the pure
New Orleans style.
Whoever was responsible and I suppose they ALL were for
the little head arrangements deserve all our praise. Instead of the usual
two collective choruses followed by solos by the horns, the piano, eventually
the other rhythm instruments and a couple of closing collectives, the
accent lies here on ensemble playing and (often unexpected) duets. I
Want To Be Happy for instance is introduced by a duet of the two
saxes, clarinet over bowed bass brings in Does Jesus Care
and Im Alabama Bound and Chloe are started
by the bass. Very often we hear ensembles in the middle of a number in
between two solos or duets. Variety reigns! How often do we hear a duet
by muted trumpet and bass? Every number offers some surprises and this
makes listening to this band an exciting experience. Those who think that
there is no evolution possible anymore in the pure New Orleans style,
should listen to these recordings. In my opinion this is THE way to continue
this great tradition. This time I will not name some favourite tracks
because ALL of the numbers are glowing little gems. Each time I listen
to these CDs I discover new things I didnt hear before.
- Marcel Joly
Kings Jazz Review - British Internet
To those who dont know about traditional jazz, who attend dim-lighted
"clubbing nights" for a "bounce around" then, as a
learning circle, they get hold of a copy of this Church Alley Irregulars
album set, which is a formidable recipe to satisfy their grown-up stimulus
- will be eureka for them.
To those with their love for New Orleans, Dixieland music, many of whom
invariably will be experts on the dance floor thereof, where having a
knowledge of the tunes is an asset in this regard, suffice to show the
"bounce around" crowd just how much a skilled dancer in this
style of jazz music they also can become - eureka.That is where the Irregulars
are a brilliant testimony as to how best such is made to happen.
Apart from Annie Hawkins who plays a nice string bass with subtle gentle
slaps, Ive not heard before now of the two other rhythm makers and
pianist. The front-liners, all well known are class jazz artists, and
are distinguishable from how they sound their instruments.
There are a large percentage of ensembles playing, as exampled on The
Beautiful Ohio. For the banjo, pick Dallas Blues. For solos home in on
Magic Is The Moonlight. There are many exquisite instances of grace and
beauty playing from - muted trumpet and trombone parts, and, to take your
pick from others that are everlasting. Noteworthy is the piano opening,
as per others, on My Melancholy Baby. A worthy addendum is that much is
owed to the fertile intuition of Big Bill for having made the album become
- Ian King
Winamop.comInternet Music Website
Most of these British musicians have been band leaders in their own right,
but never before played in combination with each other. None are in the
first flush of youth but their enthusiasm remains awesome. To play New
Orleans jazz requires not only formidable skill and subtlety but a sixth
sense which enables the creation of a harmonic whole by individual improvisers
working with variations on and creative departures from a given and recognisable
melody. What melodies? Hymns, traditional songs, spirituals, pop tunes,
blues, jazz standards, inventions, anything that takes their fancy. As
Jelly Roll Morton said 'Jazz isn't what you play, it's how you play it.'
The resulting sessions provide a remarkable atmosphere of vigour, modesty
and resourcefulness, so that of the fourteen numbers used as a basis for
co-operative creation, only the last two tracks are not entirely successful.
Big Bill describes the musicians as 'a bunch of likeable curmudgeons'.
On this CD music makes comrades of them all. If you don't think that 'tact'
is the most eloquent quality required by jazz, try this CD.
The curmudgeons start off with a burst of good cheer in 'I Want to be
Happy', and they sound it. That doesn't means this is seaside bandstand
entertainment. The pianist has outstanding lift, and the two reed players
combine with a sensitive dexterity which takes them into the realm of
extra-sensory perception. They can hear themselves and each other at the
same time, and adjust accordingly.
The trumpeter tends to overuse short sharp bursts of the kind favoured
by the late Bunk Johnson, and is often harsh in tone, but on the second
number 'Sweet Sue' his muted solo is - well, simply beautiful. Muted trumpet
with only strong bass accompaniment is unusual and beguiling, especially
when the bass player is the astonishing Annie Hawkins. The curmudgeons
regularly manage a rousing climax with zest, bounce and wit.
I won't go through each track, but commend the delicate cohesion of the
clarinet/saxophone duet on 'Beautiful Ohio,' and relish the booting tenor
of Brian Carrick when set free on 'Move the Body Over'. There are several
tracks which make it impossible not to move about with a smile on your
face. Try to sit stony- visaged and still while listening to either of
the adventures mentioned above. This would be a useful CD to introduce
anyone to the more civilised joys of genuine contemporary jazz.
- JBP, February 2005
Jazz Journal International—British jazz magazine
Recruited by Bill Bissonnette for his purist Jazz Crusade label, the band includes some familiar faces on the UK New Orleans jazz scene. The band name is adopted from the location of the recording studio. The first CD contains full
band performances on all tracks. An interesting selection of tunes mixes reliable standards with less well-known material. The musicians work well together, showing a mature, shared understanding of the idiom. Within the context of a flowing, loose-knit, free ensemble approach, the front horns solo individually, or occasionally pair up in varying combinations, bringing variation to the sound texture. The reeds, particularly, work well together - e.g. in a duet chorus on The Beautiful Ohio. Carrick's flowing Lewis-style clarinet effectively complements Pyke's warm-toned alto, which bounces along happily with a ready stream of melodic phrasing.
Cole's robust and articulate trombone is positive and supportive throughout, both rhythmically and harmonically. He contributes a roaring Kid Ory style solo in St. Louis Blues. I didn't, I'm afraid, feel comfortable with the trumpet's strangely abrupt, jerky phrasing with some declamatory staccato runs, and a somewhat brittle tone. The rhythm section gels well, with stomping bass from Annie Hawkins and some responsive drumming with good dynamics from Dion Cochrane. I particularly enjoyed Them There Eyes, which develops good cohesive ensemble momentum and a relaxed swing.
The second CD contains nine further tracks from the full band, split to sandwich a middle set of seven tracks, predominantly spirituals, from Brian Carrick's quartet, which recorded the following day. (The rest of Brian's session, which I have reviewed on page 22 of this issue.) I found some of the quartet's spirituals a tad bland and repetitive, e.g. At The Cross and a plodding What A Friend We Have In Jesus, the latter not helped by some out-of-tune bass. Best and liveliest is I'll Be Somewhere, which moves along nicely. Of the extra full band tracks, I enjoyed a tasteful Does Jesus Care? and Perdido St. Blues, with good clarinet. The first CD is certainly the better, with some very enjoyable New Orleans style jazz.
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