In a distinct departure from its normal fare, Jazz Crusade has issued a "piano blues" album. Titled New Orleans Piano Blues
, the CD features two legendary pianists from the Crescent City. As always, the label pushes the megabyte limit and squeezes in 22 great tunes. The first set features "Cousin Joe" Pleasant (1907-1989) in a 1978 London concert. The second part offers eleven choice pieces by Alton Purnell (1911-1987) taken from a 1965 concert in Australia.
Cousin Joe was born in Wallaceburg, about 30 miles from New Orleans and a cloud of mystery surrounds his name. Brian Wood explains in his liner notes, that the musician was sometimes referred to as Pleasant "Cousin Joe" Joseph, "Cousin Joe" Pleasant and alternatively "Smilin' Joe." He began his musical career with a ukulele and moved to piano later. Cousin Joe was also a well-regarded dancer. His affiliations included the bands of Billie & DeDe Pierce, Paul Barbarin, Kid Rena and Luis Russell.
The pianist exudes an irresistible charm from the first note. The eleven tunes fly by all to quickly and I had to play them over again. Hogwash Junction Function is a killer tune and made me think that the late Cecil Gant owed much to Cousin Joe. Joe's vocal and piano styles are best described as rowdy and primitive but nonetheless "wonderful." My favorite track on the Cousin Joe portion of this CD has to be She Ain't Such-A-Much. It's a good example of why Cousin Joe was respected as a lyricist. Chicken a la Blues begins with the opening bars of Avery Parish's famed After Hours then segues into another Cousin Joe original.
The second half of New Orleans Piano Blues
features one of the most imitated pianists of the New Orleans revival period. In his liner notes, Brian Wood relates the story that Alton Purnell was born upstairs at 726 St. Peter Street in 1911. Fifty years later the street level portion of the building opened as Preservation Hall. Oddly, Purnell never appeared at the revivalists' shrine. He had moved to California in the mid 1950s and toured the world. It's unusual too, that the two pianists on this CD actually appeared on the same bill at The Famous Door
in the early 1940s.
Purnell came into prominence with Bunk Johnson's 1945 revival outfit. His presence was felt even earlier within the bands of Alphonse Picou, Isaiah Morgan, Sidney Desvigne and Louis "Big Eye" Nelson. Perhaps his most famous work comes from the time spent with the George Lewis band before 1957. His 1958 vinyl album "Funky Piano-New Orleans Style" has held a prime spot in my collection for about forty years.
This session was recorded live in Sydney, Australia during a 1965 tour. While there is a slight "wow" on the Alton Purnell tracks, it isn't distracting. The music is delightful and Alton Purnell was in great shape for the concert. His version of Yancey Special
is truly original and better than most other recordings that slavishly copied Jimmy Yancey. The same applies to Alton's intense
rendition of After Hours
. The pianist's "jackhammer" left hand dominates the boogie woogie tracks and his unusual voice is well demonstrated on Gee Baby
, a song synonymous with New Orleans performers. New Orleans Piano Blues
will appeal to both traditional jazz and blues enthusiasts.