Jazz CD Reviews

Eli Yamin and Evan Christopher – Louie’s Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes – Yamin Music

Ellington to Coltrane and Armstrong to Mary Lou Williams: it’s a clarinet/piano dream come true.

Published on July 15, 2013

Eli Yamin and Evan Christopher – Louie’s Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes – Yamin Music YM37574-8, 52:06 [4/9/13] ***1/2:

(Eli Yamin – piano & co-producer; Evan Christopher – clarinet & co-producer)

Tradition is on full display on the duet album, Louie’s Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes, which features pianist Eli Yamin and clarinetist Evan Christopher. The 13 tracks, which total 52 minutes, include renditions of tunes by Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, three by Duke Ellington, and the rest of the likeminded material is by Christopher and Yamin. This is instinctual and animated music, rooted in jazz conventions but not a simplistic recreation of the past.

Yamin is a New York City jazz and blues player, producer, educator and composer. He has toured internationally for the U.S. Dept. of State, taken part in the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, performed at the White House and created a jazz musical, Holding the Torch for Liberty, about the women’s suffrage movement. His early tutelage included stints with drummer Walter Perkins and saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Christopher is a New Orleans-based artist who has released several solo projects, and recorded with an assortment of musicians, from singer-songwriter A.J. Croce to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Louie’s Dream has an unassuming strategy: to celebrate the enduring heritage and relevance of the jazz greats who have inspired Christopher and Yamin. The two open with the title track, a little known Armstrong gem the legendary trumpeter apparently only recorded once. The swinging tune echoes Armstrong’s Crescent City mannerism, and highlights Yamin’s post-stride piano style which evokes Earl Hines. Throughout, Yamin’s voicing, rhythmic stance and dynamic sensibility are all present. And when he and Christopher play together, they harmonize with surety and clarity. A fine example of this chemistry occurs on Christopher’s Creole-drenched “You Gotta Treat It Gentle” (dedicated to the distinguished Sidney Bechet). Christopher is still a relatively young player, but someday will probably rank alongside other contemporary clarinetists such as Eddie Daniels, Chuck Hedges, and Julian Bliss. Christopher has a beautiful tone, particularly when he reaches down to the lower register, and can glide exquisitely in the upper register. He does both during “You Gotta Treat It Gentle,” and ends the number with a clear clarinet whisper reiterated by a single ringing piano note from Yamin. Yamin penned four compositions; he and Christopher co-authored one piece. There is a smidgeon of Scott Joplin on Yamin’s Southern-soaked “It’s the Way that You Talk,” which comes from Holding the Torch for Liberty. The highly melodic and rhythmically enriched cut also functions well in a quartet setting, as evidenced by a live video Yamin posted on his official YouTube channel. The tender “Don’t Go Back on Your Raisin’,” is also from the Holding the Torch for Liberty musical. Christopher uses painterly tonal coloring and Yamin also supplies an emotional undercurrent.

Although no one artist overshadows the proceedings, Ellington is conspicuous. Christopher and Yamin bounce through Ellington’s 1920s-era “The Mooche,” which is appropriately dedicated to clarinetist (and tenor saxophonist) Barney Bigard, who counted Ellington as one of his employers. Christopher gives his all, conjuring up some of Bigard’s sound while retaining his own style, while Yamin showcases the resonant quality of the lower piano keys. The picturesque Ellington ballad “Azalea” drifts with subtle aplomb. This composition was one of several taped during the famous 1961 Armstrong/Ellington sessions, and thus is aptly dedicated to both men. Swing returns on Ellington’s upbeat “Dancers in Love,” which leaps along and features dashing clarinet/piano rejoinders as well as literal snapping fingers. Yamin and Christopher show their blues side on Mary Lou Williams’ stimulating “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory,” which is accentuated by Yamin’s light boogie-woogie piano and Christopher’s wonderful phrasing. There is also a slight Ellington connection here, since Williams wrote some music for Ellington, although this crackling tune was not one of them. More modern inspirations are also documented. Yamin’s “Baraka 75” was composed to honor writer and iconoclast Amiri Baraka (who turned 75 back in 2009), and has the album’s most progressive arrangement, generally post-bop in construction. Baraka’s impact can also be recognized during Yamin’s short spoken-word slice about jazz idols, which precedes “Baraka 75.” Christopher reveals his adoration for John Coltrane during the wistful “Impromptu,” which channels Coltrane’s ideas of smoothness and intricacy working in accord. Clarinet/piano duets are not common: if a listener is thus inclined, Louie’s Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes should certainly be in the top of the list.

TrackList: Louie’s Dream; The Mooche; You Gotta Treat It Gentle; It’s the Way that You Talk; Don’t Go Back on Your Raisin’; What’s Your Story, Morning Glory; Azalea; My Jazz Hero; Baraka 75; Let His Love Take Me Higher; Impromptu; Dancers in Love; Louie’s Dream Reprise.

—Doug Simpson




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