Richard Nelson Swims 'Deep River' with Aardvark Jazz Orchestra on Heliotrope Records (REVIEW)

By Mike Greenblatt on Dec 25, 2015 02:42 AM EST
Deep River 'Deep River' by Richard Nelson and the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (Photo : courtesy Heliotrope Records)

For most of my adult life I have loved when Jorma Kaukonen sings those "Deep River Blues." It's an old Delmore Brothers ditty popularized by Doc Watson that never fails to get my folk juices revved. On Deep River (Heliotrope Records), though, by Maine guitarist/composer/producer/arranger Richard Nelson and the Boston-based Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, it's slowed down, jazzed up and sent through a litany of changes. By the time this half-hour of rustic Appalachian material closes with an almost Zappa-style 16:36 arrangement of "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor" (1911) and previously recorded by Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan and dozens of others, one can only shake one's head and marvel at the abject temerity of this project.

These Aardvarks have recorded 12 albums in 42 years and are as Ellingtonian in scope as they are in longevity. Their current incarnation encompasses alto (2), tenor (2), baritone and soprano saxophones, flute (2), piccolo, clarinet (2), bass clarinet, trumpet (3), trombone (3), bass trombone, tuba, guitar, string bass, drums and vocal (2).

Consider Deep River an American Suite, entertaining, educational, and over all too soon. There's plenty of blistering jazz solos and the vocals are all decidedly in service to the song, sung with an almost detached air of professorial subservience. "Old Country Stomp" is associated with Henry Thomas [1874-1930], the first of a long line of Texas ragtime guitarists. "Wake Up Jacob" was originally a 19th-century fiddle tune.

Listening to these moldy oldies in an abstract big-band setting with charts that sting is an absolute delight.

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TagsRichard Nelson, Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, REVIEW, Heliotrope Records

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