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Thursday, April 6, 2023

Gene Mayl's Dixieland Rhythm Kings

Lonesome Man Blues

Jazz In Retrospect
Gene Mayl's Dixieland Rhythm Kings
Riverside Records 12-289

From the back cover: This new Dixieland Rhythm Kings album, their third on Riverside, finds this group of young traditionalists featuring a much wider musical approach than ever before in their 'retrospective' look at jazz. It also finds them in top form, with a varied, versatile and highly capable lineup.

The "D.R.K." was organized in Dayton, Ohio – which is still its home base – in 1948. Leader Gene Mayl, the pleasant and animated tuba-player and bassist, has been the band's driving force through several cages of personnel during the intervening years. He has always had very definite ideas and opinions on jazz and  jazz styles. Originally this led to a band most closely patterned after Lu Watter's West Cast 'revivalist." Now, although Gene conducers the D.R.K. basically still a traditional band in sound and concept, a lot has been changed since the group's previous records. Mayl no emphases mush more variety in such matters a temp, bet (w and 4), arrangements (including more use of such things as background behind solos) , and choice of selections. All of this adds up to a greater swing – in the mainstream, mid-1930's sense of the word.

As Mayl puts it: "Variety is a great thing." And an excellent example of this variety is in the repertoire employed her. Two of the tunes are Ellintonia (Caravan and Solitude); three are long familiar traditional-jazz-band items from the '10s and '20s (Dixieland On Step, Alabamy Bound and Limehouse Blues); four others are oringals by present members of the D.R.K. Former member Charlie Sonnanstine wrote Black Wall Tunnel Blues (a charter member of the group, trombonist Sonnanstine is currently heading his own band in California). Lu-Easy-An-I-Ay is former D.R.K. clarinetist Joe Darensbourg's tribute to his home state.

Mayl notes that, although the 1958-1959 edition of the band still plays the old Lu Watters book, that makes up only about ten percent of the repertoire. The rest consists of originals, three-strain Oliver and Morton compositions, some of the prettier old standards, and a liberal amount of Ellington material.

The DRK, according to Gene, cannot but be influenced by the best traditionally oriented groups of the past and present; some that he specifically mentions are Morton, Wilbur De Paris, Bob Scobey, Ellington and Condon. In sort, Mayl no longer considers the D.R.K. to be simply an Easter twig on the Lu Watters branch of the jazz tree. He still respects the Watters band as an original inspiration, summing up Lu's approach thusly: "He captured the harmonic spirt of form of the Liver Creole Band even if he didn't quite achieve the same with that group's rhythmic sense."

The members of the current DRK represent quite a few years of playing homage to jazz in different musical ways: Clarence Hall, pianist and vocalist (and composer of three of the selections include here), was born in New Iberia, Louisiana, some fifty years ago. He has worked with King Oiler, Ma Rainey, and John Kirby, has toured the country many times, and has spent much time playing in Chicago. His house-rent, boogie piano style brings to mind some of the work of the late Cripple Clarence Lofton; his piano is a very important part of the overall new sound of the DRK.

Bill Napier, now in his thirties, has played and recorded with earlier edition of this band. He has primarily based his musical activities on the West Coast and has played and recorded with Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, Bob Mielke and with his own groups. He plays in the tradition of the late Jimmy No-one and Omer Simeon. To this writer, this record represents a musical high point of his career. His solo on Harlem Breakdown is a gem, telling a story in a lovely melodic way that brings to ming the  No-one of the '40s. Napier is a notable example of a musical and  creative person who plays in a traditional style; he doesn't imitate and he speaks musically with creative authority.

Trumpeter Al Frankel is from Hamilton, Ohio and Mryl reports that he is one of the most respected horn men in that area. Frankly has played with the old Barney Capp big band (of Roseland fame) and for years was featured with a Dixieland band, headed by the legendary Ohio jazzman Shiek Coyle, that also included pianist Fred Gary and clarinetist Pat Patterson.

Curtis Miller (who answers to the nickname "Tirol" – after the Ellington trombonist) has played with the bands of the Louis Armstrong and Tiny Bradshaw. Mayl considers him "a terrific musician" and particularly likes the way he uses mutes and variety in his work.

Drummer Eddie Robinson is basically a modernist (he played on the road for quite a while with pianist Phineas Newborn). But, according to Mayl, Robinson likes the way a traditional ensemble like this one "wails and swings."

Jack Vastine has played banjo with various versions or the DRK for about five years. Jack like Kansas City jazz, with special favorites being Jimmy Witherspoon and Joe Turner. His banjo in the rhythm section is partly responsible for the band's traditional sound. His vocals on Alabamy Bound and Lou-Easy-An-I-Ay are shaped with the flavor of Kentucky and points south.

Gene Mayl's doubling is another important factor in the flavor that the rhythm section imparts to the sound of the band. The difference in overall sound when Mayl shift from one instrument to the other can of course by readily noted: for example, compare Alabamy Bound (tuba) with Caravan (string bass). Even more important to the D.R.K. have been Gene's courage and strong musical convictions, which are responsible for the band's remarkable continuous life-span of more than a decade. Despite more than a fair share of hard going in making a commercial success of things at times, they have established what already amounts to a grand old jazz tradition of their own.

Orignal Dixieland One-Step
Lonesome Man Blues
Dustin' The Keys
Black Wall Tunnel Blues
Alabamy Bound
Limehouse Blues
Put-In Blues
China Girl
Harlem Breakdown

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