The Jazz Crusade Audio Sampler Catalog
JCCD-3098: The Church Alley Irregulars

Personnel: Norman Thatcher [trumpet] Geoff Cole [trombone] Brian Carrick, Tone Pyke [reeds] Malcolm Hogarth [piano] Malcolm Hurrell [banjo] Annie Hawkins [string bass] Dion Cochrane [drums]

Songs: I Want to Be Happy, Sweet Sue, May the Circle Be Unbroken, My Melancholy Baby, Them There Eyes, The Beautiful Ohio, Dallas Blues, Move the Body Over, Magic Is the Moonlight, Saint Louis Blues, I’m Alabama Bound, Gatemouth Church Alley Blues, China Boy

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Reviews for:
JCCD-3098: The Church Alley Irregulars

Boxell’s Jazz Website - Internet Publication

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 couldn’t 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 Thatcher’s 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 wasn’t 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 - 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 Britain’s 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 you’ll 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. I’ve heard bassist Annie Hawkins before and she’s an outstanding player in her own modest way. Annie bows and slaps in perfect time and with taste.
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. I‘m reminded of the great Australian bands of the fifties featuring “Lazy Ade” Monsbrough. Thatcher’s hot trumpet is strong throughout the session and the “perfect” rhythm section gets five stars.
If you like hot jazz, this record is a very good choice. A nice companion volume is Jazz Crusade’s Reprise featuring the Church Alley Irregulars and Brian Carrick’s 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 could afford.
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 ego’s. 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 Humphrey’s “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 “I’m 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 didn’t hear before.
- Marcel Joly

King’s Jazz Review - British Internet Publication

To those who don’t 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, I’ve 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 a reality.
- Ian King—Internet 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.
- Hugh Rainey

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