Andrew Woodhead Re-Interprets The Music of Louis Armstrong And Duke Ellington

Jazz At The Spotted Dog was back inside on Tuesday after the summer sessions outside in the courtyard. Initially, I had enjoyed the space and openness of the courtyard and the early start, but eventually the level of conversation noise interfered with my enjoyment of the music. So I was happy that the sessions have moved back inside where the listeners are separated from the chatters.

The return to the inside of the Spotted Dog was marked by an original and very creative session. Andrew Woodhead has formed an excellent new group to revisit the music of Louis Armstrong and a couple of tracks from the Duke Ellington repertoire. The gig started with a rousing version of St. James Infirmary with trumpeter Sam Wooster and saxophonist George Crowley capturing something of the bravura and exhuberance of the original. They continued with Red Sails In The Sunset where I detected a touch of Earl Hines and stride piano influence in Andrew’s playing on the new Spotted Dog piano. They went into a great and moving version of Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? before bringing the intensity down with Duke Ellington’s Warm Valley. The set then moved into Just A Gigolo, Mop, Mop and Ellington’s Dual Highway. They played one through set rather than two sets.

Andrew Woodhead has mostly focussed on free and improvised music, and has played a key role in developing the free scene in Birmingham. His totally original Pendulums project involves a group of church bellringers interacting with an improvising group. The music has been recorded, and the album will be launched at St. Paul’s Church on 14th October. But here he was setting up something quite different; he was drawing on the collective improvisation that was the feature of the early New Orleans bands, particularly those such as the New Orleans Wanderers with clarinettist Johnny Dodds and his brother drummer Baby Dodds. Louis Armstrongs’ Hot Five and Hot Seven still had this collective improvisation with Armstrong interacting with Dodds, and trombonist Kid Ory punctuating it all. Andrew sees a parallel with today’s improvised music, and this was what the group was building on. They did this with great respect for the original music, but with a certain amount of irreverence.

It all worked really well on the gig; the tunes were great, and the soloists seemed inspired by the approach. As ever, Jeff Williams drove it all from the drums providing a very contemporary basis for the interpretations of the material. He was ably supported in this by bass player Nick Jurd.

This project has legs!

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