Louie’s Dream, the new album from pianist Eli Yamin and clarinetist Evan Christopher, is subtitled “For Our Jazz Heroes.” Of the 12 songs on the disc, eight are dedicated to specific jazz giants of the past and one to poet/activist Amiri Baraka. But as Yamin puts it in the short poem “My Jazz Hero,” included on the album, “Jazz is my hero.” He goes on to list a variety of the qualities he sees in his hero. “My hero is strong and gentle, kind and fierce, a leader and self-starter. The hero is never afraid to try.” And while as a poet, Yamin is a great musician, one cannot help but recognize, even among the platitudes, the almost mystical faith he has in the power of jazz and the artists who create it.
And really it is in the music itself, even without the individual dedications, that the musicians are honored. With a playlist that combines some old standards and a lesser-known composition or two with some original compositions, Yamin and Christopher look back to a time when jazz was alive with visceral sensation. This is the music of a day gone by reinvigorated for a new generation. It honors the past, not by copying but by building on what had been done; everything old made new again.
The album opens and closes with the title song, a Louis Armstrong song which he only recorded once. It is a song that echoes with the sound of “Satchmo” and New Orleans. The Duke Ellington classic “The Mooche” is dedicated to clarinetist Barney Bigard and the Ellingtonians. The famous opening theme, handled in the Ellington arrangement by a trio of clarinets, gets an eloquent treatment from Christopher. He has that sweet tone that is the hallmark of the best clarinetists. “You Gotta Treat it Gentle” is a bluesy Christopher original dedicated to soprano sax master, Sidney Bechet.
There are a couple of songs from Holding the Torch for Liberty, a jazz musical by Yamin and Clifford Carlson. “It’s the Way That You Talk” has a vibe reminiscent of Scott Joplin. “Don’t Go Back on Your Raisin’” has phrases that echo “Moonlight in Vermont.” Yamin’s “Baraka 75” is perhaps the most contemporary sound on the album, although Christopher’s haunting “Impromptu” for John Coltrane runs a close second.
Mary Lou Williams’ “What’s Your Story Morning Glory” is a swinging blues with a boogie woogie piano and some phrases that remind me of “Heartbreak Hotel.” The duo’s original spiritual, “Let His Love Take Me Higher,” is fittingly dedicated to gospel goddess, Mahalia Jackson. Two other less well known Ellington songs round out the album. “Azalea” is an intense moody ballad and “Dancers In Love” swings to a whimsical climax, demonstrating that even so-called minor Ellington pieces deserve attention.
Indeed Louie’s Dream is an album that deserves attention. It is an hour of pleasurable listening for jazz lovers and, for that matter, anyone who likes good music played with creativity and passion.