IN A BLUE MOOD
Samoa Wilson with the Jim Kweskin Band
I Just Want to be Horizontal
Kingswood Records, LLC
Vocalist Samoa Wilson has had a decade long collaboration with Jim Kweskin, exploring a wide range of music from tender ballads and raunchy blues to swinging jazz standards. In 2018, Kweskin and bassist Matthew Berlin decided to launch a project with Samoa centered on Teddy Wilson’s 1930s recordings that featured Billie Holiday, a relatively unknown singer at the time. An attractive aspect of those recordings was the pure ensemble-elegant, clean, and swinging sound. Most of the songs on this album derive from those classic recordings. Other songs are associated with Rosetta Howard, Bessie Smith.
For this recording, a little big band was assembled. In addition to Wilson’s vocals, Kweskin’s vocals and guitar, and Berlin’s bass, the band members include guitarist Titus Vollmer, alto saxist Paloma Ohm, pianist and accordionist Sonny Barbato, drummer Jeff Brown, multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, fiddle, mandolin & alto sax, and Mike Davis on trumpet and cornet.
This album is a delightful recording with Wilson’s alluring singing matched by the sophisticated and elegant accompaniments that bring forth elements of swing jazz, French cabarets, gypsy swing, hokum, skittle band, and Western Swing. While Kweskin’s crooning is quite appealing, Wilson herself has such a warm, melodious voice with her tunefulness, clear phrasing, and subtle vocal inflections. The backing provided and imaginative arrangements provide such attractive settings for the vocals. The opening “After You’ve Gone,” is perhaps the most ingenious and original reworking of a performance opening as a leisure lament sung by Wilson before the tempo quickens with the accompaniment evoking Spade Cooley with some excellent fingerstyle picking from Kweskin, accordion from Barbato and Davis’ trumpet.
The title selection features Wilson’s clean, relaxed singing, Davis’ crying muted trumpet, and Vollmer’s handsome arrangement. Besides Davis’ brass, Lichtman’s woody clarinet is another pleasure for listener’s including “Trust in Me” and “I Cried For You.” This latter number has more of a Western swing flavor than Billie Holiday’s recording with Wilson, with Davis’ superb trumpet. One noteworthy aspect of some of these performances is the inclusion of the original intro verses that had been dropped over time.
Davis and Lichtman, along with Barbato’s accordion, reinvigorate the revival of the Harlem Hamfats hokum blues ‘The Candy Man,” with delightful interplay between the accordion and alto sax. Barbato’s accordion on “Inch Worm” brings a touch of the French Cabaret with the interplay between the vocals of Wilson and Kweskin. There is also a splendid sax solo on this song. While Billie Holiday recorded “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” it is most identified with Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy with Pha Terrell’s vocal. Wilson’s vocal delivery is more in line with the sincere romanticism of Terrell that Holiday’s distinctive approach. Lichtman shines on both alto sax and clarinet here. There is also a sublime rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay,” and an understated bawdy take of Bessie Smith’s “Kitchen Man.” Vollmer contributes Hawaiian slide guitar on a 1930s Hawaiian pop song “At Ebb Tide.” Davis channels the bravado of a Roy Eldridge or Red Allen while Lichtman evokes Lester Young on “Lover Come Back To Me.”
It was such a pleasure to listen to this recording. Samoa Wilson is a fine singer and she is wonderfully backed throughout. While a good portion of the performances here are from Billie Holiday’s remarkable 19330s recordings, Wilson never tries to emulate Holiday, but invests her mellifluous voice to these wonderful songs. The result is this sublime recording.