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Music Review: Jim Robinson – Economy Hall Breakdown

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How many times have you gone into a music store and seen an album or disc of music by some long dead musician? Nine out of ten times the music gathered has either been released previously, or is stuff the person, if still alive, would never allow to see the light of day. What I find even funnier is how many of these same releases are of such dubious quality that the only way you could have bought them twenty years ago was as bootleg, or illegal recording.

In those days bootlegs were usually made by a cheap cassette recorder in the audience taking the sound from the air. If you were really lucky, they were made from tapes the sound guys made through the board while they were mixing the show. That was still no guarantee of quality because they might just be running a line to the lead vocalists vocal monitor and nothing else.

I go into stores now and see releases that I know were originally only on bootlegs and wonder who would be sleazy enough to sell this as high quality music, or legitimate recordings? Rare live concert footage, or previously unreleased studio version, is the usual way of selling these packages. Make it sound like something valuable instead of the garbage it is and watch the money flow in, is the credo these folk operate by.

They have absolutely no respect for either the memory of the performer in question or the people who think they are buying something special. Thankfully, some companies out there do their best to offset these rip-off artists with the obvious love and respect they have for music, the people who perform it, and the people who listen to it as well.
Jim Robinson.jpg
Over the past couple of years, I've had the pleasure of getting to know labels who love the music they release to the extent of taking as much pride in it as if they had written it themselves. For treasures from the past of jazz and blues the label I've come to respect most has been Delmark Records out of Chicago. Almost every month they'll bring out reissues of treasures that will make your eyes pop out.

Take for example the August 21st release of a disc that was originally recorded back in 1965 on the Pearl Label out of New Orleans. Economy Hall Breakdown features a quintet headed up by trombonist "Big" Jim Robinson (1888 or 92-1976) recorded live at the world famous Preservation Hall. It seems that Jim Robinson took up permanent residence at the Hall, playing with whoever happened to walk through the doors on a particular night from the early sixties until his death.

The gig recorded for this album was a genuine one of a kind performance. The players would probably never come together again in this lifetime. If you look closely at the original cover photo, that now graces the back of this release, you'll notice something about the drummer; he appears to be of Asian ancestry. Well, that's because Yoichi Kimura of Japan's New Orleans Rascals was studying for his Masters degree in the States that year and just happened to be available to sit in on drums for this one night.

Also appearing for the first time on record was the owner of Preservation Hall. Allan Jaffe premiered his hot tuba sound, and he and Kimura make for a wonderful, if rather strange, rhythm section. Maybe it's because they were both so familiar with the Preservation Hall style of jazz it was second nature for them, but considering this was a jam session and they had never played together before; it is incredible how in sync and natural they sound.

But of course the real pleasure is to be found in listening to the front men. Johnny Whigs (who wrote two of the tunes on the recording) plays a mean swing horn; Bob Greene plays piano ala Jelly Roll Morton; Raymond Burke plays clarinet with an abandon that I've not heard outside of Klezmar bands; and of course Big Jim on trombone. It's only been recently that I've really come to appreciate the trombone as a jazz instrument, and listening to Robinson play continued that education.

With instruments like the saxophone and the clarinet – and even the trumpet to an extent, the sound is controlled by the pressing and releasing of valves combined with breath control. At times, this can make for a choppy, maybe even staccato sound. With the trombone's sound being controlled with a slide, the effect is completely different. Sure, using short, sharp movements of the slide can break it up, but you can also sneak up on a note with the sinuous grace of a snake.

The trombone can be puttering away in the background when all of a sudden it swells up as if out of nowhere. Long graceful notes are draped around the rest of the players; filling in holes that you hadn't even noticed existed until you hear how full the sound becomes. "Big" Jim wasn't just called "Big" because of his physical size, but because of the nature of the sound he produced with his trombone. Not that he dominated the rest of the ensemble, but the way it would swell up out of the ground like some unstoppable force of nature.

That was one of the great things about listening to this recording, the anticipation of awaiting that sound on each track. When and how would it make its appearance? How would the other players react to it, and where would it all end up? Of course, that sense of the unknown was also prevalent because this was a pick up band who had never played together before.

Knowing the band as they played and recorded these tracks had only a little more knowledge than you do listening where the song is going, makes the experience even more exciting. However, all of them are such great players you never get the impression that they don't know what they are doing. Economy Hall Breakdown is a disc of high spirited New Orleans style jazz played by people who obviously love the music and are having a great time while performing.

It seems a real pity there is more music like this waiting to be unearthed and companies waste their time and money on repackaging the same old stuff over and over again. Music lovers everywhere owe a real vote of thanks to companies like Delmark Records who are doing their best to bring treasures like this back to life.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.