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CD Review 2007.12.31 DELTA BOUND New York Times

Delta Bound (w/Dick Hyman)


Ben Ratliff
for The New York Times (USA)

"Mr. Christopher is a careful player of a tricky instrument, maximizing the range of sounds in its different registers... He makes close-encounter music."




Most jazz is specialized business, but what's considered traditional jazz -- usually meaning from Dixieland to swing -- is an even more pointed subcategory. The clarinetist Evan Christopher has found his small but committed audience there.

A resident of New Orleans from 1994 until Hurricane Katrina, and on the road through the United States and Europe since, Mr. Christopher has made a few stops in New York over the years. When he does, the members of the Sidney Bechet Society know all about it, but many other potentially interested listeners don't.

That group, as this hugely likable record suggests, could be large. Mr. Christopher, in his early 30s, has studied the early New Orleans clarinetists closely, and has dedicated ''Delta Bound'' to Lorenzo Tio Jr., who taught many of the best of them. (He died in 1933.) But don't stop reading here. Mr. Christopher's playing is not a well-intentioned gloss on an unreachable, long-ago time; you never think, ''The '20s, how quaint.''

The music is completely committed. You hear a genuine throb, a vibration; you almost see the shapes of the notes expanding and contracting, becoming blobby and then attenuated. Mr. Christopher is a careful player of a tricky instrument, maximizing the range of sounds in its different registers: pinched, throaty, woody, whispery. He makes close-encounter music.

On ''Delta Bound,'' his best album yet, he is the focus of a fairly subdued quartet, including the New York pianist Dick Hyman, also a lifelong student of prewar jazz, and two of the best New Orleans jazz rhythm-section musicians, the drummer Shannon Powell and the bassist Bill Huntington. The songs take New Orleans techniques and rhythm as a starting point but spread out stylistically, reflecting deep knowledge. They include ''Kiss Me Sweet,'' which Tio played with Armand Piron's dance band in the 1920s; ''Vieux Carré,'' a beautiful song written by Tony Parenti, another founding-father clarinetist; a knockout-lovely version of Hoagy Carmichael's ''New Orleans''; and a group of originals suggesting an Ellingtonian sort of pretty sadness. BEN RATLIFF







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