It’s Alright With Me – Miles Lyons with the David L Harris Quartet

Posted by Dick Playfair on Jul 18, 2017

It’s a long time since I’ve reviewed anything here. That’s about to change since my outing to 2 Bones, my first of several forays into the Edinburgh Blues and Jazz Festival 2017.

2 Bones celebrates the work of JJ Johnson and Kai Winding, who joined forces in the mid 50’s to play the Blue Note, Philadelphia, and then hung out for a few more years, with a final reunion in the 60’s.

This time it was David L Harris (David L Harris Quartet) and Miles Lyons (New Orleans Swamp Donkeys) who took on frontline duty – and in that respect did not disappoint.

This was slide trombone too, not your Bob Brookmeyer valve variety! Trombone in my view doesn’t always get great press. I like the reaction when people ask: “What do you play?” “Trombone,” I reply if I’m feeling devilish. To which they usually sigh, shrug and quickly change the subject as they think I might ask the way to the nearest joke shop or traveling circus.

But if salmon is the king of fish, trombone is surely the king of instruments? And Harris and Lyons were there to prove it.

I, sadly, have more than 60 Kai Winding and JJ Johnson tunes on my ipod, so this was always going to be an Aladdin’s cave of harmonies, trading fours, glissandos and leaky water keys. I admit that probably isn’t everyone cup of tea [see footnote]. It was certainly mine.

Miles Lyons and David L Harris

I thought it took a while to turn up the gas. The first few numbers included Alone Together, Side By Side, and the Theme From Picnic. Kai Winding, Danish and undoubtedly laid back about life in that Scandinavian way, apparently had a habit of turning up late, or cutting it extremely fine. Dick Katz who played piano in the early quintet said that Kai had a habit of showing up “close to hitting time”. Maybe that had happened here?

Harris asked for a show of hands as to who knew the music of the original duo – quite a few, but equally for quite a few this was uncharted territory. Miles gave us a brief history: “We [trombonists] listen to it a lot. We don’t have the chance to play it much.” And then he added: “It makes me feel good.” I liked that.

With the song Judy we were introduced to Jasen Weaver on bass who, with Shea Pierre on keys and Gerald T Watkins Jr on drums provided a solid and impressive backline – and, all credit to them, would have been a hugely entertaining trio in their own right, without the brass department!

Shea Pierre, keys, Jasen Weaver, bass, and Gerald T Watkins Jr, drums

Bernie’s Tune was breakneck with a pacey drum intro and Lyons and Harris slipped easily into traded choruses, fours, twos and possibly traded single notes even. Clever stuff, with carefully orchestrated breaks and riffs interspersing the solos – pegs in the ground, homage to the original recordings.

Georgia featured Lyons in an exposition of how mellow and soulful the bone can be. We also felt this on Lament, “the only tune that JJ ever wrote,” Harris told us.

Then a burst of the blues – Minor Blues and Blues In Two’s which featured, along with several other numbers in the set, on the very earliest JJ Johnson/Winding recordings.

The all too short journey wrapped up with a rousing What Is This Thing Called Love ? – more trading twos, multiple exchanges, solos, harmonies, interplay, and tag team trombonology!

The guys did well. Played hard. Showed what versatility there is in this oft maligned instrument, and its true range from rounded and sweet to short, stabbing and percussive – and with so many notes to choose from. Indeed the choice of notes is infinite!

It was boisterous, it was brash. It was smooth and textured. At times it was down-right dirty. And it was fun. I wonder if the staid Edinburgh audience had enjoyed it more whether we might have seen more antics from the mass of assembled talent on stage. When Harris invited the audience before the final number to clap, sing, dance even, you just knew they wouldn’t.

A pity we never got It’s Alright With Me – very much the JJ Johnson and Kai Winding theme tune. So much so that Dick Katz said: “I remember getting thoroughly sick of that one.” Roy Williams and George Chisholm, a fabulous trombone player despite the Victorian bathing suit and Crackerjack appearances (for those of us old enough to remember) really turned it on with the Alex Welsh Band for the 1971 Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert. I would have loved the Harris – Lyons version I’m sure.

The Rose Theatre Basement is a super venue too. Good atmosphere. Great lighting.

If you can catch any of these guys again during the Jazz Festival do that, or maybe they will be at one of the Jazz Bar Jam sessions during the week where they might drop by to weave that magic.

Footnote: Rosie incidentally, who stoically came with me in an effort to get to like jazz more (this is a standing joke in our family) told me she would have rather been at the dentist having her wisdom teeth pulled with no anesthetic. Well, you can’t win them all.