You rascals you!

Martin Longley digs the unusual tune selections made by Dave Moorwood’s Rascals Of Rhythm.

Dave Moorwood’s Rascals Of Rhythm
Solihull British Legion
November 15th

The Rascals Of Rhythm rummage deeply into the vintage jazz repertoire, uncovering ancient chestnuts that are hardly ever heard on the traditional jazz club circuit. Most of their selections are from the 1920s and ’30s, some even earlier, and their choices are often not the most likely, or even if they are, the arrangement might be based around the tune-version from a less obvious interpreter.

Guitarist Dave Moorwood is a focused leader, intent on his own peculiar perspective, invariably dropping in an explanatory nugget or two in his introductions. The Rascals Of Rhythm don’t actually have a drummer in their ranks, which is highly unusual for a band of this type. Consequently, Moorwood’s bullish strumming acts as the propellant force (rather than the somewhat quieter bass), his sound shorn of any mellow reverb, clipped and dry, emphasising the curt qualities of his hard-worn strings. It’s an exciting change in tone from what’s often expected, providing an edge of excitement to the proceedings. Moorwood doesn’t take many solos, leaving most of the out-front action to his twinned reedsmen, Mike Wills and Tony Blincowe.

The Rascals opened with Copenhagen (after Bix Beiderbecke), followed by Take Me To That Land Of Jazz (from way back in 1919), with Moorwood offering one of his occasional vocals, the pianist actually sitting on his amplifier, spending much of the first set trying to balance himself within the spread. It’s not just the old American numbers that are fodder for this combo, as they threw in Humphrey Lyttelton’s Mezz’s Tune.

This was chased by A Sailboat In The Moonlight, one of the least traversed tunes in Billie Holiday’s book, although Moorwood was also casting his glance over Ruby Braff’s reading. Wills stuck with his curved soprano for the majority of the tunes, but brought out his tenor for this one. He returned to soprano for Big House Blues, a fairly obscure Duke Ellington ditty. This featured paired sopranos, one straight, the other curled, exchanging sinuously intertwining lines. Then the reeders doubled on clarinets for “Eccentric”, traipsing into sudden stops and starts.

A highlight of the second set was Boiled Ow”, penned by Marty Grosz, a song that can fight with the works of Slim Gaillard or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in the arena of the ridiculous. Unusual selections from Louis Armstrong (Once In A While) and Sidney Bechet (Passport To Paradise) followed, the latter making a stately parade, the Rascals managing to coax more than the usual number of dancers onto the floor. Apparently, the band always finishes with Duke’s Ring Them Bells. We’re not sure why, but it did make for a suitably romping conclusion.

Dave Moorwood’s Rascals Of Rhythm play at Abbey Jazz, Malvern Rugby Club, on Sunday 22nd November.