Ralph Carney’s Serious Jass Project (Akroncracker)
Let’s get one thing straight right now: the only “serious” thing about Ralph Carney’s delightful new record is his band’s dedication… to having a damn good time and making sure you do too.
Like finding a stash of your grandpa’s favorite ultra-rare 78s, something über-collector Joe Bussard would pull out of a hidden compartment in his famed basement, the Serious Jass Project reels off a string of all-too short swing gems. Their repertoire tilts heavily towards the more obscure end of the Duke Ellington songbook, but also ventures into Big Jay McNeely’s barwalking jump blues, boogie-woogie bounces and light bop fantasias, with a bit of free jazz thrown in at the end to keep the longhairs happy.
Ralph is always something of a hydra-headed horn monster, ready to pick up pretty much any sort of wind instrument on a moment’s notice. He doubles or triples (or, I swear, quadruples) on nearly every track here, crafting beautifully harmonized dialogues with himself on bass clarinet and flute, or casting his gravelly tenor sax tone against his breezy alto. And he sings, too, propelling several tunes even farther into the realm of slap-happy delirium.
But while you could have fun just trying to guess how many Ralphs are on each of the CD’s 14 tracks, this isn’t a one-man band by any means. Michael McIntosh also contributes mightily to the Jass Project sound, with a gleefully quirky, subversive piano style that sounds like it might have been lifted from a deleted roadhouse scene in the film “Reefer Madness.” Ari Munkres’ alert, agile basslines hold the fort, and Randy Odell keeps everybody bouncing off the walls with off-kilter, thumping drums and deft brushes.
The only regret is that singer Karina Denike — who brightens up the old-south ballad “Mississippi Dreamboat” — doesn’t have more to do. Denike (who works with most of the same crew in The Cottontails) makes a great addition to the sound and hopefully will have a more substantial role on the Serious Jass Project’s next CD… there will be one, won’t there? Please, Ralph, tell us there will.