Evan Arntzen meets la Section Rythmique



Evan Arntzen : clarinette, tenor sax / David Blenkhorn : guitar / Sébastien Girardot : double bass / Guillaume Nouaux : drums

Dan Morgenstern’s Liner Notes:

There is a song, not a standard yet, immortalized by none other than Louis Armstrong– called “I Come From a Musical Family.” It could be Evan Arntzen’s theme song, since it fits him like a glove.

This gifted young musician hails from Vancouver, Canada (which recently brought us another jazz gift, the wonderful trumpeter-singer-composer Bria Skonberg, in whose company I first encountered Evan, the two sharing front line duty in David Ostwald’s Armstrong Eternity Band). There must be something in the British Columbia soil that causes jazz to thrive.

Consider the Arntzen family. Grandfather Lloyd, who plays superb soprano sax and clarinet, would pick up Evan and his brother Arnt (who plays acoustic guitar and banjo) after school every Wednesday and give them–plus some cousins–lessons on their respective instruments. His home was full of books and records and that’s how Evan first encountered the classic jazz repertory he has learned to master. Father Tom, says Evan, is an accomplished jazz pianist who also works in other styles, while mother Georgina sings professionally and also teaches music. Add some musical cousins, and that song sure comes to life!

Grandpa, who favors Bechet and conjures him up surprisingly well while avoiding that pronounced vibrato, the brothers, and some talented friends can be heard on a highly recommended CD, “Blackstick” (the name of a Bechet composition, that just happened to have been my first encounter with the great man, at a hip friend’s house in Copenhagen almost 75 years ago, thus a special kick to hear now in such good hands).

But on to what you are fortunate to hold in your hands (streaming is not my favorite), which is also a delight and offers uncommon and appealing quartet textures. “La Section Rythmique” is a trio with which, Evan says, “I’ve been playing off and on for the better part of a decade when I’ve gone to Europe.” The threesome is well attuned and offers fine support to Evan, guitarist Blenkhorn also proving himself an interesting soloist, not surprisingly with touches of Django, but original. Bass and drums play their proper roles well, but Guillaume Nouaux adds some unexpected touches. It’s clear that these four have established a common language spoken without any foreign accent (the days when non-American musicians were hyphenated are happily long past).

What particularly delights me about the repertory offered here is the many bases it touches, from Jelly Roll Morton and Chris Smith (who penned “Ballin’ the Jack”) to Richard Rodgers and Water Donaldson, not to mention Billy Strayhorn and Lester Young. It is one of the greatest pleasures of my long life, much of it spent in the company of jazz, that the music finally seems to have arrived at a point in its rich history when more and more young musicians are able to hear and absorb all of it instead of limiting themselves to the latest, the oldest, or the in between. Clearly, Evan is one of these. He has a distinctive style on both his chosen instruments, on which he offers appealing sounds, fluent command, and that often elusive thing called swing. His singing is gratifyingly unaffected and unpretentious, adding a personal and natural “extra”. I was particularly taken with “Please,” both instrumentally and vocally, again in part for sentimental reasons, as I owned this 1930 Robin and Rainger opus by the man who put it on the map, Bing Crosby (I half expected Evan to whistle a la Bing). He acquits himself well with Morton’s self-congratulatory “Mister Jelly Lord,” not to be taken too seriously– Jelly was no Trump.

Of the instrumentals, both Evan originals are good vehicles for improvisation, “Half Eyes” based on guess what standard (trade Half in for Have), while “Afterthought” also offers a title clue, though it reminds me of “Four”–it has a bass solo– good one.

No clues are needed for enjoying “Little White Lies,” a most attractive Donaldson tune and a favorite of the short-lived tenor man Wardell Gray, of whom Evan’s fluent phrasing reminds me. The fine guitar solo moves from single string and slightly boppish to strum, and Evan and drums exchange fours. “Isn’t it Romantic,” called a perfect tune by the demanding Alec Wilder is lovingly treated by clarinet and guitar, including some fuguing–the kind of duet only longtime friends can achieve.

On “I’ll Get By”, bass states the theme with soft guitar behind, then into tempo with single string guitar lead, tenor softly improvising underneath. Evan’s gentle vocal comes as a surprise (sorry to rob the reader), cymbal and softly bowed bass (which can be heard throughout) with Evan humming, then taking up tenor to the soft landing (I’ve commented at some length to illustrate the inventive treatments offered by this so well integrated quartet).

On “Afterthought” Evan plays nice lower register clarinet and there’s some unison with the guitar–to me, a touch of Tristano. “Twelfth Street Rag,” at up tempo, has more of that nice lower register clarinet, a single string guitar solo with lively drums, a fun solo that goes into octave stuff a la Wes, while our bass man comes on a la Milt Hinton, and the drum outing offers a variety of sounds. This is the most entertaining treatment of this oldie since Count Basie (and Lester Young) took it for a ride–the street is in Kansas City. Speaking of Lester Young, “Tickle Toe” is his, and our guys do it justice, at the original tempo–exactly right. (Good tempos are much in evidence throughout this recital, and most welcome).

The attentive listener–meaning you!–can manage without further annotation by yours truly, but I must have my final say: “Lotus Blossom,” one of Billy Strayhorn’s most lovely melodies, is fully respected by this almost straight treatment, via Evan’s clarinet in mid-register, ever so warm, to the pretty ending. No way to follow that, as Duke Ellington, who offered it as a piano solo in memory of Billy, so well knew. Its choice and placement exemplifies the empathy, respect and imagination with which Evan Arntzen and La Section Rythmique have treated this veritable excursion through the music we call jazz. You will like traveling with them!

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