Touchstones &
Torch Songs
Review by Dean M. Shapiro for
Offbeat: New Orleans' & Louisiana' Music Magazine,
March 2001, vol. 14(3): 38. Reprinted with permission from Offbeat magazine.
When I was given these two CDs to review, I was quickly reminded of Billy Preston's big hit from the early '70s, "Will it go round in Circles." In 1981, shortly after I moved to New Orleans, I began looking for freelance writing assignments. I approached the editor of
New Orleans Magazine
about letting me do an article on a local big band leaderand was told that all of the publication's music-related articles were written by Rhodes Spedale adn that he had "an exclusive arrangement" with them. Now, ironically nearly 20 years later, while freelancing for another publication, I find myself reviewing two records featuring Spedale with three different trios. "Will it go round in circles?" Yes indeed it does.
The Gentle Jazz
features Spedale on piano with Norman Meyer on clairnet and James Campbell on bass doing 12 old-time trad jazz
standards in dixieland style. Not surprising is "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" leading the pack and "Do You Know What it Means
to Miss New Orleans" concluding it. This seems to bea standard format, as witness by a recently issued CD from teh Fritzel's Brass
Band on Bourbon Street which does likewise and is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. In between are other classics like Fat Waller's
"Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose," Benny Goodman's "Memories of You" and seven more. Conjuring up images of a bygone
era that still lives on in Vieu Carre tourist spots and on paddlewheel cruises, the trio sounds great.
Touchstones and Torch Songs
is a two-CD set recorded live on two separate occasions at Snug Harbor with two different trios. Disc
one dates from 1994 and disc two was recoded two years later, with both being issued in one set in late 2000. Spedale's style leans
more toward modern jazz on these two sides, each of whichis more than an hour in length. In all, the two discs contain two dozen
standards inked by some of the 20th century's greatest pop composers--Ellington, the Gershwins, Kern, Porter, Arlen, Romberg, Victor
Young and Rodgers and Hart among them. Spedale and his muscians on both discs perform these classics with two-handed artistry
on their respective instruments. The sound is no-nonsense, straight ahead jazz--the kind you might hear in the nightclubs and atriums of
New Orleans' most luxurious hotels and at black tie social functions. On disc one, Spedale is backed by Al Bernard on bass and David
Hansen on drums while on disc two, he employs Ed Wise on bass and Richard "Dicky" Taylor on drums. They're all equally good. Everyone
gets to do their solos and there's never a dull moment. Especially outstanding is Horace Silver's piano classic, "The Preacher," which
Spedale uses to lead off disc two, and John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" near the end of disc two. On this cut you can literally hear
three-fourths of Trane's famous quartet with Spedale playing the melody before surrendering to solos by Wise and Taylor that are
reminiscent of the styles of Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, respectively. Taylor literally explodes like fireworks on his
solo, methodically pounding out the full battery of instruments in his percussive arsenal. Overall, Spedale's style is light, breezy, easy on
the ears and soothing to the senses. Modern jazz at its best.