FAME Review: Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quartet - Sugar Blues
Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quartet - Sugar Blues

Sugar Blues

Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quartet

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

I can't tell you how jazzed I was to pick up an old box set of Louis Armstrong's complete Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings on CD and a 10-disc set of Sidney Bechet as a local record shop was going out of business…'cause, man, I got 'em for next to nothing! Those musicians put out some of the best old-timey early jazz. Well, now it's a few months later and up pops this cool collection of musics also from the Wayback Machine. Yeahhhhh, Alex Belhaj's Crescent City Quartet and their Sugar Blues is a collection of vintage compositions played in the old smoky backroom manner…hell, even recorded that way, as I'm sure this was an open-mike gig taken live.

Let me start by saying Belhaj's version of Tiger Rag is one of the most charming I've heard. I think the reason for that bases in his completely chordal guitar work, a fundament nailing the group down, a rare evocation of the guitar as both rhythm section and secondary fronting instrument simultaneously. Ray Heitger (clarinet) and Dave Kozmyna (cornet) temper the celebrated song to his guidance, blowing and gamboling yet perfectly on track with the six strings. Bassist Jordan Schug is the rolling sea, the eddying wind, and the lazy green grass beneath all of them, and most of the album proceeds in that manner, though the gents do offer up vocals every now and again (Sitting on Top of the World, etc.)

This is the sort of disc Robert Crumb—the ever-interesting, curmudgeonly, and antiquarian underground cartoonist and aficionado of bygone musics—would flip his wig for. My favorite track is Take My Hand, Precious Lord, the oldest backdated piece in the collection (1844—lyrics by Dorsey in 1932) rendered with joy, a sense of humor, and gusty full-blooded vocals. Don't, however, pull the disc when Precious Lord cuts out, 'cause there's a hidden track present, as you'll see when a '13' registers on your player even though the disc claims only 12 cuts. You'll have to wait for about a half minute, but what you get for your patience is a scrap of the lads cutting up chaotically in the studio. Just a snippet but pretty amusing. It's a complete contrast to the Dixie, barrel-house, street corner nature of the rest of the CD…yet somehow it fits right in, as the Wayback crashes back into the 21st century and you look wistfully into your whiskey glass.

Track List:

  • Weary Blues (Artie Matthews)
  • My Bucket's Got a Hole in It (Clarence Williams)
  • Sugar Blues (Williams / Fletcher)
  • Careless Love (traditional)
  • Viper Mad (Sidney Bechet)
  • His Eye Is On the Sparrow (Gabriel / Martin)
  • Four or Five Times (Byron Gay)
  • My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) (J. Berni Barbour)
  • Tiger Rag (Jelly Roll Morton)
  • Sitting On Top of the World (Vincent / Chatmon)
  • You Don't Love Me (Cottrell Jr. / Glenn / Albert)
  • Take My Hand, Precious Lord (Allen / Dorsey)
  • Hidden Track

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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