When I heard that Van Morrison was bringing out a third new album in six months I must admit my first reaction was, “Not another one, you must be joking!”. In the past whenever Van had no new songs of his own to offer it seemed to me that he would return to his ‘roots’ and produce a ‘genre’ album that I was sometimes disappointed with. After listening to the new CD this afternoon though I am really pleased that I bought it because it is a very enjoyable splendid addition to his great body of work. It was 1968 when the young Van walked into a New York recording studio to work with a group of jazz musicians who he had never met before. In two sessions they produced one of the greatest records of all time which was Astral Weeks. Fifty years later Van entered a studio on the other side of that great continent to collaborate with another jazz musician Joey DeFrancesco and his band. Van has made albums with other people before such as Mose Allison, Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, Linda Gail Lewis and The Chieftains. They haven’t always been popular with the fans, but I think apart from The Chieftains album this new one with Joey DeFrancesco is Van’s most successful collaboration to date. It is definitely his best album in the jazz medium, that’s for sure.
The album opens with Miss Otis Regrets which is a Cole Porter song first made famous by Ethel Waters in 1934. I think I first heard it sung by Kirsty McColl. Joey plays some nice trumpet on this track. Hold It Right There is a song originally by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson who is another artist I probably would never have heard of only for Van. Daughter Shana helps out on vocals and Joey’s organ playing and the saxophones of Van and Troy Roberts are excellent. All Saints Day has never been a favourite Van song of mine but here it comes to life mainly due to Joey’s virtuoso organ playing. Van delves right back into Astral Weeks with The Way Young Lovers Do and I like this version with Joey again demonstrating what a wizard he is on the organ. The Things I Used To Do is an Eddie Jones (Guitar Slim) composition. It was a huge hit in 1953 and actually produced by Ray Charles. This new version is great due to Troy’s tenor sax, Dan Wilson’s fabulous guitar playing and Van on harmonica. Travellin’ Light was originally a hit for Billie Holiday in 1942 with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was also recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1958, I’m sure Van knows that version. We mustn’t forget the contribution of Michael Ode on drums to this album, especially as there is no bass player in this ensemble. Van has recorded Close Enough For Jazz three times and until now I haven’t really rated it as one of his better songs. This version is fun though and Van is clearly enjoying it, scatting away to his heart’s content and the band are all in the groove. There is laughter at the end which shows they had a great time making this album. I didn’t rate Goldfish Bowl either when it came out in 2003 but Van must think we weren’t listening properly and has re-recorded it here. It is a 7.08-minute romp with all the band showing their skills. One fan said this song was a highlight when it was performed in London last weekend and I can see why now.
|Me looking at the album.|
Evening Shadows is a song that Van wrote with the late great Acker Bilk. The clarinet of Acker is missing here but that is more than made up for by Troy’s saxophones and Joey’s keyboard skills. Magic Time seems to be a favourite song of Van’s because it has been part of his live repertoire for a long time now. It is an ideal song for the small jazz clubs where Van likes to play. Troy and Van excel themselves on their saxes with this song. I first heard You’re Driving Me Crazy in 1961 when it was a hit for The Temperance Seven. I remember them singing it on The Billy Cotton Band Show. It was written in 1930 and has been recorded by dozens of people since. You can hear Van laughing with pleasure during this song after a solo by Dan. Everyday I Have The Blues is a song made famous by Peter Chatman better known as Memphis Slim although most people probably know the version by B.B. King. This version by Van and Joey is great and the enjoyment they had recording it is apparent at the end when Van exclaims, “I gotta hear this stuff”. Have I Told You Lately is one of Van’s greatest and most famous songs, but I have never been enamoured with the faster ‘Las Vegas’ arrangement that he has often performed live. I do like this version though with Shana joining in on vocals and the exquisite guitar playing of Dan Wilson. Sticks And Stones was written by Titus Turner and was recorded by Ray Charles in 1960. For the final track Van sees what the band can do with his great instrumental Celtic Swing and they don’t let him down. A great way to bring this most enjoyable album to a close.
I have really enjoyed listening to this album today on a rainy Saturday afternoon. All the ensemble obviously enjoyed making the record and their enthusiasm is infectious. I think it will be more than just jazz fans who enjoy this record. A big hand for the band !