Nagel, Bernstein, Akchoté, Jones

Big Four Live
hatOLOGY 637

By Ken Waxman

A unique recasting of the timbres created by a classic Swing Era combo, this mixed American-European quartet proves that profundity can result from post-modern transference. Mostly performed portamento, with just enough growls, echoes and spikes to be distinctive, the nine tracks here add intellectual rigor to andante swing.

Never to be confused with Dixielander Muggsy Spanier, American trumpeter Steven Bernstein still works old-style references into such slangily titled compositions as “New Viper Dance” and “Muggles 2000”, while making full use of plunger digressions, braying rubato tones and showy triplets. In the Sidney Bechet role, Austrian alto saxophonist Max Nagel replaces wide vibrato with sudden intervallic jumps and rasping obbligatos, while his solos range from velvety to – on his aptly titled “Monx”, of “Epistrophy” not ecclesiastical reference – irregular chirping and sibilance.

Providing downward plucks as did Wellman Braud, father of the walking style, American Brad Jones showcases an intermezzo rife with thick slaps on “Muddy”. Meanwhile France’s Nöel Akchoté hammers out metallic, resonating licks, recalling Chicago blues guitarist Muddy Waters rather than the original Big Four’s Carmen Mastren, who would have been similarly shocked by Akchoté’s cranked bottleneck whines and distorted below-the-bridge picking elsewhere.

Still, that 1930s guitarist would have approved of Akchoté’s delicate finger-picking. Wedded to Jones’ felt-but-not-heard pulses and the antiphonal call-and-response vamps from both horns, the result crystallizes the appeal of this modern-traditionalist date.

In MusicWorks Issue #100