An Eternal Sideman Claims the World

"Amad," the climactic punch in Ellington's Far East Suite, is wittily faithful, but tosses off its own allusions with canny blends that go further east. The accordion introduction fuses an Ellington figure with Liszt's Sonata in B minor. Wilson's drums are perfectly in sync, driving the constantly shifting Ellington melodies. Unlike the original, which is almost entirely composed until the closing trombone solo, Nash's version opens quickly for a vivaciously bowed violin invention, bouncing over the thematic vamp, followed by equally effective solos on bass clarinet—much poise, even dignity—and accordion, an instrument that, thanks largely to the Piazzolla craze, has been thoroughly liberated from "Lady of Spain." Gordon's tuba—no trombone here—maintains the gait in a dialogue with drums, ending it with two harrumphs.

The most appealing of Nash's five originals is the title piece, "Sidewalk Meeting," which is so generically country or gospel—in any case, Southern—it may remind you of any number of tunes; one listener asked me if that was Patsy Cline's "Why Can't He Be You," and damned if there isn't a resemblance. It opens with a super trombone cadenza—virtuoso plunger stuff with trilling growls and chortles, funny and brazen—that would have gotten him a job with Ellington, who loved novelty bits. He comes out of it to visit wa-wa (as opposed to ya-ya) Nashville, backed by bass clarinet. In concert, Odeon climaxed in New Orleans with a Dixieland reprise, but on the record the Dixie segment is a separate track. "Tango Sierra" is also attractive, especially in performance, merging gypsy violin with klezmer clarinet and ending with what could pass for a French apache dance.

Ted Nash’s music could serve as a Rorschach.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Ted Nash’s music could serve as a Rorschach.

The rest is less effective. "Summer Night in the Deep South" was fired up in concert by Ben-Ari's violin; it's a slow march, a dirge, prone to nostalgia and intriguing mostly for a breathlike accordion vamp, which inhales and exhales as only a squeezebox can. Monk's "Bemsha Swing" has moments, most of them in Gordon's responses to Nash's tenor, but his tuba underscores a second-line beat and cadences that are banal compared to what Monk had in mind. "Reverie" is a handsomely played duet for clarinet and accordion, and finishes with some Ellingtonian tremolos, but feels more like an exercise than the Debussy exam. "Jump Line" spends too much time marching in place to a tuba vamp, yet comes alive with dancelike jollity in passages when it breaks free. At its best, Sidewalk Meeting does more than break free. It makes you think of possibilities Odeon has yet to explore. It recharges the eclectic impulse, and mandates a follow-up.

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